Concerns for safety on alternative Kaikoura route with no cellphone coverage

The Inland Rd between Kaikoura and Waiau is commonly covered in snow and ice during winter, making it treacherous for ...
EMMA DANGERFIELD/FAIRFAX NZ

The Inland Rd between Kaikoura and Waiau is commonly covered in snow and ice during winter, making it treacherous for locals, never mind overseas tourists. Despite this, much of the road has no cellphone coverage, making it impossible to call for help if needed.

The issue of safety is paramount for a group pushing for improved cellphone coverage along Inland Rd between Kaikoura and Waiau, which is seeing an huge increase in traffic since the November earthquake.

Mt Lyford resident Sue Turnbull said she was part of the group who had been lobbying Parliament on behalf of residents, emergency services and tourists for some time to get cellphone communication on the road.

"We have sent several letters to ministers," she said. 

"We have heard nothing back from the minister of tourism. We had two letters from Simon Bridges' office but they didn't cover the points we raised – they basically said we didn't qualify because it's not a state highway or a designated tourist area."

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Turnbull argued the road had effectively been a highway since November and, with Kaikoura promoting itself to tourists as being open for business, traffic on the road was likely to continue to increase.

Added to this was the rebranding of the Alpine Pacific Triangle and proposed Hurunui Heartlands Cycle Tour, which would put even more tourists on the notoriously windy road.

There had already been several crashes on the road this year, and Turnbull was concerned that as winter weather set in the situation was likely to worsen.

"The road is not even that bad yet. We commonly see 20-30 centimetres of snow, not to mention the ice . . . chains are often required to get in to Waiau."

Turnbull said she had been advised the need on the West Coast was greater because they were due for an earthquake of magnitude 8 or greater.

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She said the Hope Fault, which ran through the Inland Rd area, should also be a concern.

"I know it's going on all over the country, I personally think the whole of New Zealand should have coverage. But I am lobbying for the residents, contractors, emergency services and tourists who use this road."

Emergency services were supportive of Turnbull's efforts to improve communications along the route, Kaikoura St John station manager Don Wright said.

"It would be great to have cellphone coverage, not only for our communications but also and probably more importantly for the general public to be able to call for assistance if required.

"We do have a satellite phone which works along this road, but cell phone coverage would be better."

Hurunui District Council recovery manager Paul Wylie said the lack of cellphone coverage along the Inland Rd was a concern to both the Hurunui and Kaikoura councils.

Both had expressed concern to the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and the Government as part of their submissions on the rural broadband rollout and the mobile black spot fund, he said.

"Any solution based on 4G cellphone technology and large towers will be expensive, and regrettably there are many other high volume highways with the same problems.

"As an alternative the councils are currently investigating other more low cost technology that may be able to provide a limited capacity that will be adequate until permanent full coverage can be provided at some point in the future."

An NZTA spokesperson said while the route was used more when SH1 was closed, traffic volumes were still relatively low compared to many other parts of the country which also had intermittent or no cellphone coverage.

When SH1 was closed, between 700 and 900 took the route daily, compared with between 200 and 300 when SH1 was open, the spokesperson said.

 - Stuff

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