NZ Transport Agency contractors have installed a new, short range cell site at the Department of Conservation’s Pleasant Flat campsite on State Highway 6 in recent days.
The sun and wind-powered cell site services all three main cellular phone providers – Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees – within a 300 metre radius of the campsite, which has good parking.
“The Haast Pass to Makarora Road is one of the most remote locations in New Zealand,” says Transport Agency Journey Manager Lee Wright. “Until the recent installation of cell towers at Lake Wahapo, near Whataroa, and Haast, by the Government’s Rural Connectivity Group(external link), there was no cell coverage between Fox Glacier township and ‘The Neck’ on the West Coast side of Lake Wanaka - a four-hour journey.”
The highway passes through some of the most scenic, hazardous, and sparsely populated countryside in New Zealand with the Haast Pass road completed just 53 years ago in the 1960s. Most winters, it will be closed due to snow or slips a number of times.
The Transport Agency’s Pleasant Flat cell site makes up another island of cell coverage on the highway to Wanaka, says Ms Wright, with more sites underway through the Government initiative.
“We were really pleased that crews got this site installed and all three providers connected just ahead of the worst of the winter weather in recent days. We know how much our road crews rely upon radio coverage when there is no cell coverage. This site provides that extra security for their operations, for all the emergency service providers as well as for the many international visitors along this popular tourist highway.”
“Having more cell sites both north and south of the Haast Pass means that drivers can check on their phones if the pass is open well before they drive the considerable distance into the Haast Pass, then have to turn around and make alternative plans for that night,” says Ms Wright.
Pleasant Flat is where the new road closure point will be in the event of the Haast Pass being closed, so drivers can phone and update their journey status, and make alternative accommodation arrangements if they need to from this camp site.
If there is a crash or slip on the highway, drivers will be able to contact emergency services from this point also.
“As part of this project we will also install an emergency phone intercom as we did last winter at Boyle River, on the Lewis Pass route between Picton and Christchurch. This will allow drivers to call Emergency Services, and also to call the Transport Agency on the 0800 4HIGHWAYS number for road information.”
The site is fully off grid from power, with a 270 watt solar panel, 150 watt wind turbine, and three days’ worth of battery storage.
Rural Connectivity Group latest update on the West Coast cell coverage: