''Panic and confusion'' was how a bus driver who arrived in
Wanaka from the West Coast yesterday afternoon summed up the
mood of tourists affected by the washed out Wanganui River
bridge at Harihari, south of Hokitika.
Newmans bus driver John Hamilton would normally have 20
passengers on board for his trip south from Franz Josef at
this time of year, but yesterday all his 49 seats were taken.
The loss of the Wanganui bridge on Wednesday meant tourists
heading north up the West Coast intending to continue to
Christchurch were forced to retrace their steps south to
Mr Hamilton said the disruption was confusing a lot of
tourists and a lot were panicking - particularly those who
had planned to take the train from Greymouth to Christchurch.
The tourists' problems had been compounded by the lack of
communication, Mr Hamilton said. There were no cellphone, or
land lines, or internet connections available.
''And it's too wet to light a fire for smoke signals.''
Three tourists from Alabama due to fly home from Christchurch
at 6.30am today were still pondering their next move outside
the Wanaka i-Site at 3pm yesterday.
Darren Abbott said they had tried and failed to get a flight
from Queenstown in time for their Christchurch flight.
He had spoken to his airline who suggested he ring his travel
agent who suggested he ring the airline. They had no vehicle
or booked accommodation.
As Mr Abbott discussed their predicament with the ODT, the
driver of an Atomic shuttle bus, Stu Evans, offered them a
ride to Cromwell and said his office was working to find a
way for them to reach Christchurch in time for their flight.
Wanaka i-Site supervisor Michelle Smith said the office
handled 1567 inquiries on Wednesday, many of them related to
the disruption on the West Coast and also because of
cancelled trips to Fiordland.
There were still queues yesterday afternoon.
Many of the questions were about accommodation but Ms Smith
said there was ''not a lot'' left in Wanaka.
''It is very difficult.''
• The damaged State Highway 6 bridge over the the Wanganui
River, near Harihari was being assessed by structural
engineers yesterday, paying particular attention to possible
damage to its piers. They are considering installing a Bailey
bridge to restore the main arterial route temporarily.
''Our contractors are already on site lifting large boulders
into the floodwaters to try to divert the Wanganui River back
on to its original course - that will hopefully help us
assess the significant damage caused when the river changed
course earlier, and allow the subsequent work to proceed more
quickly,'' NZTA's senior asset manager for the West Coast,
Mark Pinner, said.
The NZTA said there are no other alternative routes in that
region between the West Coast and Wanaka and Queenstown, and
drivers are being diverted east of the Southern Alps.
• A Telecom spokeswoman late yesterday afternoon said a
temporary solution had been put in place at three affected
cellphone sites on the West Coast and services ''should
return to normal''.