Wheels over water

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 2, 2018

Makeshift lane rehab means no trailers currently

When heavy rainfall from Cyclone Gita closed the Takaka Hill road (State Highway 60) indefinitely on 20 February, it was trucks to the rescue – along with some excellent Kiwi creativity, also known as forward planning.

Golden Bay has a population of 6000 people and, at the time, about 4000 tourists. By 10am the following morning, social media had spread the word that ‘the Hill is munted‘. Panic buying emptied the shelves of Takaka township‘s only supermarket of toilet paper and most food supplies. Diesel and petrol were rationed under the state of emergency.

Not only was there no way to bring supplies in, but Golden Bay‘s primary industry, such as milk, cream and beef, could also not get out.

It was a scenario that Fonterra, with Sollys and TNL, had long considered and within 24 hours a barge was running from Nelson to bring in food supplies, toilet paper and fuel – in that order – and take out milk and cream.

Anthony Tait, manager of Fresh Choice in Takaka, says the quick response reflected the rapid establishment of a centralised system with an urgent meeting at the fire station. He credited people such as Merv and Ed Solly, and also Fonterra. “What they did with the barges was pretty impressive,” he says. Along with TNL, they had already planned for long-term closure of the Takaka Hill.

“TNL, Tasman Chilled and Bidvest have gone well out of their way to ensure the people of Golden Bay got their goods in.”

Many hours of phone calls saw trucks carrying supplies in, Fonterra products out, ferrying between Port Nelson and Port Tarakohe at Golden Bay. The barge could load and unload only at high tide either end of the six-hour trip each way. It effectively added two days to supply, putting strain on the best-before dates of chilled products. Trucks with chillers kept their engines idling during the crossing, which was dependent on fine weather.

The level of damage to parts of SH60‘s lower south side is significant.

The day the weather broke, on Sunday 25 February, NZTA opened the hill with restrictions. All the damage, due to massive slips, was on the lower third of the Riwaka side. It was single-lane only; vehicles would be permitted to travel from 7am to 8am every morning and 5pm to 6pm every evening. Pilot vehicles would lead convoys through in either direction; no trailers were allowed. Some vehicles were issued special permits to travel in between times.

In practice, the system has had a heavy impact on truck drivers. For example, a truck carting a load of prime beef cattle would normally collect the stock from farms around Golden Bay and truck them over the hill and down to Christchurch. However, because the truck needs to be at the early morning convoy just before the damaged section by 7am, it needs to collect the stock the previous day, yard, feed and water the cattle in Takaka and reload them into the truck for the trip to Christchurch, because the stock cannot be on the truck for more than 12 hours.

The restriction on trailers, due to the tight turns required in some of the corners, means that two or three trucks are required to replace the capacity of one truck and trailer unit.

It affects drivers‘ schedules, since they have to wait for the return convoy in the evening after making a morning run to Nelson, or vice versa.

The trucking industry‘s response to the closure was summed up by Chris Carr, director of Carr & Haslam Ltd in Auckland, who worked closely with Sollys to bring gas supplies, including LPG for domestic cookers and barbecues, into Golden Bay.

“It‘s one of my little hobby horses,” he says, “because I don‘t think that trucking gets the recognition it deserves.

“People often forget how our supply chain works, if they even know that there is one. Stocks in most stores throughout the country are low, and not designed to cater for emergencies. The resupply was a pretty impressive effort.”

At this stage, NZTA is unable to confirm how long the restrictions will remain in place.