By Amelia Willis, Taupō Partnerships Ranger
Team building for staff from the DOC Taupō office this year was a trip over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – the most popular day walk in the country and right in our backyard.
For most of the office it was a chance to re-visit a favourite, but it was a first time experience for a few of the group.
“Thunderbirds are go!” was the call the day before, and the weather even looked good the morning of. But of course, as we all know – and try to convey to unprepared tourists all the time – the weather in an alpine environment is unpredictable; the rain set in just as we began to climb the “Devil’s Staircase”.
The cloud and the cold (and a few grumpy moods) meant we couldn’t enjoy either the views or the knowledge imparted by Dr Harry Keys, our expert guide for the day. Nevertheless at South Crater, the call was made to continue.
Slightly soggy, and spirits a little dampened, we made it to the top just as the cloud parted and the sun shone over Red Crater – illuminating its magnificent colours and more importantly lifting the mood of the group!
Fantastic views, lunch and a few lollies meant from there on in it was all smiles and laughter.
Memorable moments for me include dismantling cairns (piles of rocks – or “graffiti” according to Harry); Ray Bond and John Carman running Bear Grylls style down the scree slope to the Emerald Lakes; and the brilliant effort put in by Jo de Lange who completed the crossing for the first time. Well done!
It really is another world up there, and even with a bit of bad weather, you can see exactly why so many people from all over the world have it on their bucket list.
The spectacular features of Red Crater, Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake; not to mention superb lava flows and the more recent destruction from the active Te Maari Crater.
Having our own guide was a big draw for many of us and, once the rain cleared, we were actually happy to stop and listen!
Harry brought the mountains alive with stories of both ancient and recent eruptions. Particularly interesting, for a group of DOC staff, were the unique management issues faced by DOC i.e. what to do when a volcano erupts on the most popular day walk in the country.
The light system put in after the Te Maari eruptions of 2012 is just one of those management tools. Harry tested each of the five signs as we came to them – giving a few tourists on the track a bit of a surprise when the lights started flashing red!
We also had Rangers Sally Jackson and Toby O’Hara from the Tongariro team with us, so we got to hear about the issues they face every day.
This year’s busiest day saw over 4,000 people pass the track counter. It’s a huge task to balance that number of visitors, and their impact, on both natural and cultural features of the crossing.
Sally collected two bags of rubbish as we went, so clearly visitors are still failing to take on the “leave no trace” message.
Even with the rubbish, we were all incredibly impressed with the track and facilities. Post busy summer season the track is still in great condition and the toilets were not unpleasant. We even came across Hut Ranger Boyd Goodwin actually working on the track – the perfect moment for a discussion on track management.
It really makes you appreciate the work that is involved in ensuring we can all explore New Zealand’s special places.
A big thank you to everyone who made the day possible and memorable and, if the Tongariro Alpine Crossing isn’t on your bucket list – add it today!