Radio arrives kicking and screaming at Makarora

21:38, Feb 17 2009

John-Boy and Mary-Ellen Walton could tune in to the radio back in the 1930s, but the small alpine community of Makarora, near Wanaka, has had to wait for modern technology to bring it a phenomenon of the past.

The tiny township, 40 minutes' drive from Wanaka, has no radio frequency and no cellphone reception.

Most of the 80 or so residents have been keen to tune in to the airwaves and the Makarora Community Association, also concerned about civil defence isolation, approached Radio Wanaka.

Radio Wanaka co-owner Ed Taylor said yesterday they were investigating getting a signal into Makarora, via the internet using a broadband connection and a small transmitter.

"It's more of a public service really, to do with civil defence and times of emergency. It's an easily isolated community and it would help them feel part of the Upper Clutha, " Mr Taylor said.

Other tiny Upper Clutha townships such as Tarras, Cardrona, Luggate and Lake Hawea were all tuned in, but Makarora, it seems, was the last bastion of the airwaves.


"It's because of the mountains," Mr Taylor said. "It would cost tens of thousands of dollars to set up a transmitter on a mountain to get it (radio) there. But now with the internet and broadband it's feasible and would be quite reliable." Heavy rain caused a massive landslip creating the Young River dam in late September this year.

Authorities are still monitoring the 2km-long, 500m-wide lake after more rain in October caused it to spill.

"There's no message service to get anything out unless you drive around with a bullhorn or loudspeaker -- they feel a bit isolated and vulnerable," Mr Taylor said.

He hoped to do the testing for the new service early in the new year.

Makarora has no cellphone coverage either, and while not all of its residents are keen to be interrupted by pesky mobiles, Kaye Aspinall, of Makarora River Ranch, said it would be "lovely to get radio ... We've got a holiday house at Haast and the first thing I do when I get inside is turn on the radio" .

Guests at their farm often felt "really put out" that they could not use their cellphones, but she was not too bothered by those.

Mrs Aspinall confessed that her nephew, Derek Williams, had set up a personalised voice message on her rarely used cellphone. It says: "This is Auntie Kaye's phone. Please don't leave a message cause she doesn't know how to retrieve it." Makarora residents can subscribe to Sky and get all the TV channels. Otherwise, they enjoy scrapbooking, collage, photography, painting, embroidery, patchwork or woodturning.

"My husband's out in the dark doing weedeating right now," Mrs Aspinall said.


The Southland Times