Are you ready for an Easter weekend adventure?
We've all heard the tales about unprepared walkers scrambling along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in jandals and jeans. It can be hard to believe, but for Bubs Smith, a Land Search and Rescue volunteer, it can be a common sight throughout the summer and especially every Easter weekend.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the country’s most popular day walks. Being 19.4km in length, it takes day walkers on a journey across rugged volcanic landforms surrounded by dramatic alpine scenery. The harsh environment combined with highly changeable weather contributes to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing having the highest number of search and rescues of any tramping track in Aotearoa.
Year after year, the crossing sees an increased number of people wanting to tick it off their bucket list.
Smith says his team is finding more people set the day walk as a New Year’s resolution. Due to the looming colder months, people see Easter weekend as “one last go at it” before the summer ends.
“But they fail to prepare themselves adequately - walking around the mall is no comparison to how fit they need to be to complete the trek,” he says.
Walkers underestimate fitness levels and time required
The most common incidents Smith sees on the crossing are people overestimating their abilities and underestimating the high level of fitness and time required, and this supported MSC’s in-depth analysis of incident data. As a result, people take longer to complete the day walk and are exposed to the harsh conditions.
They become tired quickly due to lack of fitness which leads to muscle cramps and rolled ankles, blisters – often because they bought new boots the week before, broken toenails due to the steep downhill, and inadequate clothing for the alpine environment, he says.
Safety video highlights key safety risks
A tramping safety video made by the NZ Mountain Safety Council (MSC) in partnership with Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro, the Department of Conservation (DOC), NZ Police, LandSAR, Tourism NZ and members of the local tourism industry highlights the key information a hiker needs to know before attempting the track including what to pack, key hazards and decision-making points.
The recent update, launched in November 2022, emphasises advice on how to descend the rocky scree from Red Crater and a greater focus on how to manage key risks and difficult sections. It has also been translated into Mandarin and Korean and has subtitles in six other languages.
Preventative approach this Easter
This Easter, in an attempt to be one step ahead of those planning to take on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, local search and rescue teams will place themselves along the track to ensure everyone makes it off the crossing safely.
The preventative approach by the Turangi Land Search and Rescue, as well as neighbouring Whanganui, Taihape, Taupō teams aims to educate walkers.
“We realised that we were always getting a call late afternoon over the Easter break, so initially we thought we may as well go up earlier in anticipation of a call. While we were there, we quickly realised the opportunities to inform and assist people as another way of preventing injuries,” says Bubs Smith of local hapu Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro.
The first set up on the track in 2018, and have done it every year since, except for 2020 Covid-19 impact.
The plan goes like this: One group of three will “tail end Charlie” the late morning stragglers and set up on Red Crater. They will then discourage any late stragglers they believe are not equipped to complete the crossing in time. Another three-person team will be stationed at Blue Lake area to “pick up” the last people over the crossing. A final team further down above bushline will follow out the last walkers to the carpark at the end of the day.
“People need to remember it’s not just the blue skies and amazing views. It’s a contrast of worlds that is rarely matched; beautiful scenery yet in a harsh environment.”
Smith knows that while he and his team experience these incidents at a high volume, they aren’t alone when dealing with these concerns. Easter weekend presents challenges across the country with an increased number of people making the most of school and public holidays, combined with impacting changes such as daylight savings and changeable weather.
He asks that people choose the right trip for their Easter outing.
Smith suggests walkers to prepare by watching a newly released update of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing safety video, and to use Plan My Walk to check weather forecast and recent reviews from other walkers.
Te Ngaehe Wainikau of Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro says to respect the maunga, respect yourself.
“When we enter this domain, we do so with the primary focus being our personal safety and preparedness. The cost of each rescue or recovery is not primarily financial, the cost is the pain inflicted on your loved ones, the anguish of companions, the potential danger and trauma experienced by the rescue teams, and the mamae of Tangata Whenua.”
If you have done this track and have an interesting story to tell, get in touch with us, or share your story on social media and tag #MakeItHomeNZ.
- Download the Plan My Walk app to help find a track and plan your trip this weekend. Consider exploring local tracks in your region if you don’t have time to plan a backcountry excursion.
- These three short yet important NZ Mountain Safety Council videos, called ‘Ready Set Go’, will help you to prepare for the long weekend adventures:
- Be ready for anything
- Be ready for all weather
- Read: Understanding weather