Winter chaos on roads, ferries

TIM DONOGHUE AND ANDREA O'NEILL
Last updated 10:22 15/08/2014

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Winter has taken much of the country into its icy grip once more, causing ferry cancellations, road closures and power cuts.

Ice caused traffic chaos on North Island roads overnight, with crashes being reported in Taupo and Bay of Plenty, where a car overturned on black ice.

The Rimutaka Hill Rd in Wellington is open, but the Desert Road, the road between Waiouru and Ohakune and many South Island highways were closed all night due to snow.

Down south state highways 6, 8, 83, 85, 87 and 96 were all closed or partially closed.

Cook Strait ferry sailings have been cancelled this morning due to strong southerly winds in the Wellington region.

The Interislander cancelled its 6.30am sailing from Picton and its 8.30am sailing from Wellington. Bluebridge cancelled its 8am sailings from both sides of Cook Strait.

The company would this morning assess whether a 1.30pm sailing from Wellington would depart, a spokeswoman said.
Wellington habour ferry sailings have also been canned. All sailings from Days Bay and Queens Wharf have been cancelled, and a call on the afternoon sailings would be made at noon, a spokesman said.

Southerly winds of up to 117kmh battered Wellington last night, leading to road closures and scattering debris across the city's south coast streets.

The road between Island Bay and Owhiro Bay was closed this morning, and debris was making life difficult for motorists at Moa Point too.

At 5am wind speeds at Wellington Airport were 98kmh, but on Mt Kaukau 117kmh was recorded at 3am, Metservice meteorologist Liz Walsh said.

"It was quite a gusty night," Walsh said.

Winds should ease tonight, but rain would arrive this afternoon and stick around until Saturday at least, Walsh said.

Temperatures would not exceed 10 degrees Celcius today, and up to a centimetre more snow could be expected on the Rimutaka Hill summit, Walsh said.

In Island Bay fishing boat Star of the Sea broke its mooring about 6am and got washed up on the beach.

The storm broke roller doors at the Island Bay Marine Education Centre's base at the local surf club.

GALES WHIP AUCKLAND

West Auckland residents bore the brunt of high winds last night, with 1700 Vector customers without power this morning.

Meteorologist Mariken van Laanen said gusts reached a maximum of 135kmh at Manukau Heads and about 100kmh in less exposed areas like Auckland Airport.

The gusts caused vegetation to fall on lines, cutting power to 1000 Piha residents at 9pm and 700 Ranui residents at 2am.

Generators would be installed at Piha soon, with power expected to be restored by 9am, a Vector spokeswoman said.

Auckland Civil Defence controller Clive Manly said some outages had been expected with the winds and a king tide but it had received no reports of damage to homes.

MetService said the winds were expected to ease today.

LONG DRIVES

Heavy snow fell on the Napier-Taupo Rd, throughout Taranaki and between National Park and Taumarunui.

At midnight last night the NZ Transport Agency website was advising motorists wishing to travel between Wellington and Auckland to detour round Taranaki or Hawke's Bay.

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NZTA estimated such a journey would increase the 10-hour drive between the cities by a further four or five hours.

The heavy snowfall across the North Island last night closed both key central North Island routes - to the east and west of Mt Ruapehu - linking Auckland and Wellington.

About 8pm 13 cars and a truck and trailer unit were stranded on top of Rimutaka Hill Rd between Wellington and Wairarapa.

Sergeant Peter Theobald, of Police Central Communications, said all vehicles were cleared from the hill after snow stopped falling about 9pm. The road was reopened at 11pm.

Theobald recommended motorists took care in the challenging icy conditions.

"There's two snow machines keeping an eye on the road up there overnight," Theobald said.

Hundreds of people wanting to get to their Wairarapa homes after work from Wellington opted to remain in Wellington with friends and family overnight.

Christine Ammunson was among the motorists trapped on the Upper Hutt side of the hill when she endeavoured to drive home after finishing work late.

"The road was closed when I got to the bottom of the hill north of Upper Hutt about 7.45 ... I turned round and headed back towards Wellington.

"I'll be getting to work early in the morning. I'm lucky I've got people I can stay with," Ammunson said.

The temperature at Waiouru was down to zero degrees Celsius overnight while the temperatures at Raetihi and Ohakune hovered between zero and 2C.

A MetService spokesman said snow stopped falling across North Island areas affected from about 9pm.

He predicted the possibility of further snow falls on the Desert Road this afternoon and evening.

- Stuff

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