In 1993 Tongariro became the first property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List under the revised criteria describing cultural landscapes. The mountains at the heart of the park have cultural and religious significance for the Maori people and symbolize the spiritual links between this community and its environment. The park has active and extinct volcanoes, a diverse range of ecosystems and some spectacular landscapes.
Since inscription Paul Green, the World Heritage site manager, and others have taken significant steps to increase the awareness of the site. The park’s dual World Heritage status was celebrated at a high-profile event attended by the Governor General and Prime Minister of New Zealand (NZ), the Director of the World Heritage Centre and national Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
The outstanding universal value of this World Heritage site is communicated to the public through site signage, publications and interpretation at visitor centres, including audio visual displays and media releases.
"The WH status of Tongariro National Park has particularly increased awareness amongst the indigenous Maori owners of the site and it is possible this will assist future preparation of an indicative list of New Zealand sites." – Paul Green
When reviewing the park management plan WH status acts to assist prioritization of protecting natural and cultural values. The new park management plan emphasises the values of World Heritage and the need to ensure that management policies do not impact on these values.
The managers of Tongaririo always try to ensure that planning, publications and interpretation take the WH status of the site fully into account. An example is the level and impact of recreation; World Heritage status has helped emphasize that further developments such as extending ski field boundaries or accommodation would not be appropriate.
Although significant additional funds have not been achieved for management at Tongariro National Park as a result of WH designation, in Paul’s opinion this probably reflects a view that all National Parks in New Zealand are sufficiently funded. Unlike some of the other sites featured in this project with heavy NGO involvement and associated financing, generally in New Zealand NGO’s are involved in issue management, or their members help in a volunteer capacity.
Tongariro managers have hosted visits from various countries and established an exchange programme with Mt Fuji and some Australian cultural sites. The managers of Tongariro have also attended a number of international conferences and made presentations.
"It is always useful to share management experiences with others, but Tongariro is possibly more valuable to other site managers as an established site with a long history of professional management." - Paul Green
As such Tongariro regularly receives visits from international World Heritage site managers, and the management team regularly provide advice to other World Heritage site managers through various networks. For example, in 2000 Tongariro hosted a South Pacific World Heritage Site Managers Workshop.
For tourists visiting Tongariro, information is provided via a website, publications and through the release of media information. World Heritage status is emphasised to stress the responsibility to protect the site as a world ‘icon’ for future generations.
Tourists visiting the Whakapapa visitor centre are aware of the management issues confronting Tongariro and the role of the community in assisting management. Often this will be in the form of volunteer assistance, ranging from committed individuals, who may be local or international, to conservation groups.
As summer visitor numbers at Tongariro continue to increase, Paul considers the importance of the site’s World Heritage status will also grow. In his opinion WH impact can currently be described as medium benefit but, he adds;
"It is my belief this will increase to a large benefit as continual pressure for increased use and development is applied at the site." – Paul Green
Tongariro National Park World Heritage Site would welcome additional resources for the protection of World Heritage values and the provision of high quality visitor facilities and services including interpretation.