Big rigs ‘won’t bust bridge’

Beast: Go Orange boss Luke Taylor with one of the Unimogs PICTURE: GO ORANGE

Unimogs will be rolling in to Skippers from spring after Go Orange invested several million dollars on eight of the beasts to transport rafting clients.

The company’s also signed a 10-year lease on a 7.8-hectare property at Skippers – formerly owned by Jane Scheib – which it’ll use as a logistical base in the immediate future.

In part that means the company won’t need to tow trailers laden with rafts in to Skippers in future.

But, despite fears from some quarters about the weight of the Mercedes-Benz Unimog trucks being too great for the one-lane Deep Creek Bridge, Go Orange boss Luke Taylor says the 20-seaters are “well within” the weight restrictions.

Signs advertising the weight restriction at either end of the bridge – 40 per cent of Class 1 – have been missing for some time.

Go Orange, and others, lodged a request for service with the council for them to be replaced and council contractor Downer put up new signs on Tuesday.

Regardless, the company was acutely aware of the restrictions for weight on the bridge before they ordered the Unimogs.

They’ve worked closely with the local council, NZ Transport Agency, Downer and the Department of Conservation and have had the weight independently verified by weighbridge testing.

“The Unimogs are well within the 40 per cent loading factor of that bridge and we’ve had that confirmed by the council.

“We knew what the weight restrictions on the bridge and the road were before we made a pretty sizeable investment in vehicles. We went into this whole process eyes wide open.”

Taylor says the Unimogs will be rolled out to replace the company’s existing fleet of 4WD vehicles and, despite appearances, they’re the same width.

“I guess it’s a perception issue – they’re very burly, they’re quite tall, but they’re actually remarkably narrow.

“If you’re going to go 4WD-ing in Queenstown, do it like you mean it.”

The new vehicles also have higher clearance so they can “quite comfortably” sit with one or two wheels in the water race on the side of the narrow Skippers Rd, giving other vehicles more room to pass.

Bought from Mercedes-Benz in Germany and custom modified by Kiwi Bus Builders in Tauranga, standard operating procedures are being developed and there’s “significant driver training” being done with Mercedes-Benz specialists who have flown out to help.

The company switches from “drive rafting” to heli rafting today for winter.

When drive rafting resumes in spring, the Unimogs will be in operation but Go Orange won’t be using them on the Skippers Rd in winter either.

As for plans for the Skippers property, Taylor’s tight-lipped.

“Certainly, we’ve got long-term plans for the property, but we hold those plans pretty close to ourselves, so we won’t be sharing details of that.”