MetService and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency are warning people travelling around Te Waipounamu, particularly Southland and Otago but also places which catch snow like Banks Peninsula, to be ready for winter weather, at the start of the school holidays.
There are likely to be more overseas visitors on our roads, particularly given that the Australian school holidays coincide with New Zealand’s in July.
Over the next few days, snow is forecast to low levels in the far south, with heavy snow possible in mountain areas of Queenstown Lakes District and Queenstown itself.
Snow could also fall to 200 metres around Dunedin, and in Canterbury to 300 metres over Banks Peninsula from Saturday night, potentially down to road level, says MetService.
Those travelling about the South Island, particularly people travelling through the alpine passes (Arthur’s and Porters SH73, Lewis SH7, Burkes and Lindis SH8, also the Crown Range Road between Wanaka and Queenstown and SH80 into Aoraki/Mt Cook) should check the MetService website for Road Snow Warnings and with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for road closures and advice.
The Mackenzie basin, winter 2022, SH8. Photo courtesy Adam Proudfoot of Waka Kotahi contractor Downer (his hard-working grader taking a pause):
Travellers frequently underestimate the speed at which snow and ice can form on highways like Burkes Pass between Fairlie and Tekapo and the Lindis Pass, the entrance to Central Otago via Tekapo (SH8), says Mark Pinner, System Manager for Waka Kotahi Central South Island.
“The highway into Aoraki/Mt Cook, SH80, can also catch people out as it is one way in and one way out – so travel with good clothing and blankets and a few supplies in case you need to wait for the road to be cleared.”
The Crown Range, a locally managed road linking Wanaka and Queenstown, catches its fair share of snow and ice, with chains required from time to time.
Fog is another winter hazard people need to watch out for, says Mr Pinner. Drive with your lights on dip, watch for ice and drive slower to suit the conditions to avoid rolling or sliding off the road or into another vehicle.
Keeping your lights on during low visibility weather is another helpful thing to do for long highway drives.
While Waka Kotahi contractors have comprehensive winter maintenance plans in place and will grit a road or apply de-icing compound before ice forms, they rely upon road users to drive to the conditions. Slow down if you suspect there is ice and avoid sudden braking.
While a temporary highway closure to clear snow or lay grit might be inconvenient, your safety and the safety of other road users is the reason for any closures. “Our contractors have to judge what an average driver could reasonably manage in the conditions,” says Mr Pinner.
Over the next few months, ice will form even when it’s daylight. Whilst we aim to intervene, sites can change just after we’ve driven through. Be aware of the outside conditions as far as you can. Black ice is usually transparent so the black road surface is all you see. Often you won’t be aware of it until you feel your wheels losing traction/ slipping. It is often found on bridges and in shaded spots under tree overhangs, areas which do not catch the sun in winter.
At the start and end of the day be aware that sunstrike can be blinding as the sun’s rays are at low angles. Before a journey, clean your windscreen inside and out thoroughly.
Waka Kotahi contractors are instructed to only tow vehicles that are in a hazardous position or affecting the contractor’s ability to open or maintain the road, if it is safe to do so. Vehicles will only be towed to the nearest safe pull-over area. All reasonable care will be taken, but the contractor cannot accept liability for any damage incurred. Ultimately vehicle owners are responsible for the recovery of their vehicle if they get stuck.
Please remember it is illegal to: Drive on a closed state highway or ignore restrictions and drive recklessly when the weather alters the driving environment.