Tongariro eruption could benefit tourism
By Jono Hutchison with NZN
Ruapehu's tourist chief says the publicity from volcanic eruptions in Tongariro National Park may be good for tourist numbers in the long run.
The popular Tongariro Crossing has been closed for at least three days because of Wednesday's eruption at Mt Tongariro, just as the busy summer season was arriving.
GNS volcanologist Nico Fournier says the closure gives scientists time to assess the situation.
“We have a three-day stand-down period where we look at the science that comes in from GNS and then we will make a decision alongside our partners, Ngati Kaero ki Tongariro, as to when tracks will be partially or fully re-opened,” he says.
But in an area known for its volcanic activity, the international publicity from an eruption can be helpful – provided it doesn't go on too long.
"For now we're in the spotlight, and sometimes that can turn out to be a positive," Visit Ruapehu general manager Mike Smith says.
"If it's short term, which we all hope it is, then these things have a funny way of working out in a positive way. If it's longer term, and particularly over a number of weeks, then it's more challenging."
Some tourist operators have lost a few bookings due to the Tongariro Crossing's closure, but there have been people dropping by the region whose curiosity was sparked by the eruption.
Mr Smith says the big wish for summer is that the crossing can re-open.
"Many people put the Tongariro Crossing on their New Zealand bucket lists. It's one of the best one-day walks in the world," he says.
"At some stage, we're hopeful they can still do the walk."
Geologists have also warned of the potential for an eruption on Mt Ruapehu, which has impacted on guided climbs to the crater lake – less popular than the Tongariro Crossing – but not other activity on the mountain.
Department of Conservation spokesperson Bhrent Guy says it's important people know surrounding areas are safe and there's no need to cancel trips to places that aren't closed.
“Come and look at Mount Ruapehu and Tongariro National Park,” he says, “It's a great place to be and it's a great place to visit. It is safe, but take the precautions and listen to the advisories that are out there”.
And Rick Cooper, the mayor of the neighbouring Taupo region, is nothing but positive about the eruption.
"I think the media would love it to be 10 times bigger than what it is – she's letting off a bit of steam on the outside. But hey, how great it is to be promoted on the world stage."