Pressure’s mounting on Queenstown’s council to seal one of the Wakatipu’s most scenic but hazardous unsealed roads.
National tourism boss Kevin Bowler even wades in, saying councils need to consider sealing more sections of popular roads in and around tourism hotspots.
The 10-kilometre road past Glenorchy, from the Rees Bridge to Paradise, is a magnet for increasing numbers of tourists driving to Lord of the Rings film sites.
But Queenstown line producer Gary Strangman says the road is “very, very dangerous” and “will cause serious injury or death over the upcoming Chinese New Year”.
Local farmer Jim Veint says cars and even buses are continually coming off the road.
Councillor Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson admits there are genuine concerns. The council’s recently erected 70kmh signs.
Strangman, who raised his concerns with Queenstown’s film office this week, says drivers hog the crown of the road and risk sliding into deep culverts to make room for oncoming or passing vehicles.
“If you hit a verge, you’re either going to bounce back into a car going the other way, or flip over.”
Strangman says the problem’s worsened because there are far more vehicles using the road.
“It’s dangerous for people that are used to driving on gravel.
“The Chinese [visitors] have never driven on gravel, and they should have a far safer road than this.”
In a submission to last year’s annual plan, Veint wrote: “I am sure there is no other road in New Zealand that has more accidents and injuries per car that travels it.
“A big percentage of drivers on this road have never driven gravel roads before.”
Veint tells Mountain Scene: “Instead of 40 people in a bus with a New Zealand driver, you’ve got 20 cars with Chinese drivers.”
The local council has put down Otto Seal in front of both Veint’s and neighbour Geoff Thomson’s driveways, but both farmers are urging it to seal the whole road. A large number of vehicles turn around before reaching Paradise.
Veint: “So many people have been into my house just over the last few days complaining about the road, and saying ‘why can’t you do something?'”
Mt Earnslaw Station’s Thomson, who’s seen vehicles fly off the road and through his fences, says this summer’s dry weather has heightened the problem.
The fines in the gravel are blown away, he explains, leaving stony, rough corrugations.
Though the road’s graded every so often, like this week, “a few days later it’s back to where it started”.
Thomson says visitors often crawl along at 30kmh.
“As soon as they hit the gravel, on goes their brakes - it’s a bit of a shock for them.”
Tourism NZ’s Bowler, whose organisation has heavily promoted the country’s Lord of the Rings film sites, says he’s unaware of the road’s current problems.
“Many of our international visitors won’t have experience driving on unsealed roads, so there’s no doubt we need to consider sealing more sections of popular unsealed roads in and around tourism hotspots like Queenstown,” he says.
“With growing numbers of international visitors choosing to self-drive, we need to ensure road conditions are of an appropriate quality to ensure safe journeys for all road users.”
Councillor Ferguson, a council representative on the Glenorchy Community Association, says “there are genuine concerns [about the Paradise road] which are not going to be easy to resolve”.
Council staff will address the issue at next month’s association meeting, he adds.
Infrastructure boss Peter Hansby says sealing of the road is not in the council’s long-term plan.
The project would require NZ Transport Agency funding, and its investment outside certain ‘roads of national significance’ has dropped off, he notes.
“We would estimate the costs to complete a full seal extension would be in the order of $250,000 per kilometre.”