Tourists urged to take care on backcountry roads

Potts Road in Canterbury. Image: Phillip Capper

DOC is urging tourists to take care when driving on New Zealand’s backcountry roads ahead of what is expected to bumper summer season.

Buller District operations manager, Bob Dickson, said that back country roads are at their busiest during this time of year, often seeing up to 50% of their yearly use over a two month period.

“We want people travelling to destinations off the beaten track to slow down and adjust their driving to the road conditions.”

The government department manages around 2,300 km of roads around the country, with many roads leading to destinations that have become increasingly popular in the last couple of years, which has also led to an increase in crashes.

As well as issuing the driver warning, DOC is investing in signage in accident hot-spots such as a problematic West Coast backcountry road.

The Oparara Road near Karamea, which includes a 15km stretch of gravel road and leads to the increasingly popular Oparara Arches, has been the scene of 18 traffic accidents in the last eight weeks.

Although there have been no injuries, serious vehicle damage has occurred as a result of these accidents involving both domestic and international tourist drivers.

Buller District operations manager, Bob Dickson, said: “We are investing in more signage in the Oparara to encourage people to slow down and take care, but we also want hosts and companies renting vehicles to give visitors a heads up about the special nature of these roads and how they should be safely driven”.

There has been a surge in the popularity of the Oparara Arches in recent times, with visitor numbers to the tripling in the 10 years records have been kept. In the 2016-17 summer season, the popular natural formation which is up to 200 metres long and 37 metres high attracted just over 11,250 sightseers.

Many of the roads DOC manages are one lane, or narrow two lane roads, so it warns that special care should be taken around blind corners and speed adjusted appropriately.

Road margins can also catch people out Dickson added: “Never go onto a margin of a road without reducing to a very slow speed first – often the edge of the road will be softer, and on backcountry roads, ditches can be hidden by vegetation”.

People driving on unsealed roads should be aware the loose surface of the road offers very low skid resistance. Slow down when approaching oncoming traffic as dust could obscure your vision and loose stones could chip your windscreen. Dust from vehicles in front may reduce visibility so speed should be reduced and following distances increased to account for dust clouds and greater skid risk when stopping.

Dickson said: “Don’t ruin your summer fun through careless driving – take extra care, slow down and expect to share these roads to have truly rewarding experiences in our great outdoors.”

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