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This article was originally published on Stuff.co.nz
Company’s push to use Unimogs on ‘terrifying’ Skippers Rd
The local council is investigating the planned use of 10-tonne Unimogs to carry tourists on a Queenstown road described as one of the world’s most treacherous drives.
Go Orange plans to transport up to 20 people in each of the Mercedes Benz trucks along Skippers Rd, through the Skippers Canyon, to go whitewater rafting on the Shotover River.
The 22-kilometre historic road was hand-carved by goldminers alongside the river. It is one lane wide most of the way and has sheer cliffs that drop down hundreds of metres at many points.
Go Orange are permitted to use the Unimogs on the road as it is a public road.
A council spokesman said the council is investigating.
“There are resource consents associated to Go Orange’s commercial activities for which there are conditions of consent they are required to adhere to,” he said.
“I fear for the road and I fear for when a bus goes over. I fear for the people who will get killed,” he said.
He took photographs at Pinchers Bluff that showed how close the wheels of the Unimog came to the edge.
“I drive trucks and drive them on that road but I wouldn’t want to drive one of those [Unimogs] in there.”
The Unimogs were “scary as hell”, he said.
He was also concerned the vehicles were so wide, especially when travelling together, that they would effectively close the road to other users.
Go Orange manager Luke Taylor said he was “satisfied” the Unimogs were safe for the road and confident the weight and width measurements the company had provided to the council were correct.
“All that information has been checked. We have satisfied ourselves and the appropriate authorities including the NZ Transport Agency.
If the council decided the Unimogs could not cross the bridge, the company could empty passengers from the vehicles or not cross at all, as it was close to the rafting operation, he said.
The Unimogs were selected to replace old buses because of their “capabilities, suitability and safety”.
Road cones had been placed as temporary markers on the edge at some points while driver training was under way, he said.
There would be no more than two Unimogs travelling together at any one time, along with a pilot vehicle ahead that would radio the Unimog drivers and tell them to pull over and make room for any vehicles coming in the other direction.
The company purchased eight Unimogs, which would also be used for four-wheel-drive tours in the Von Valley, between Queenstown and Te Anau, and for a rafting operating on the Kawarau River in summer, Taylor said.
They had “wow” factor and were more comfortable than buses with bigger windows and better air conditioning.
The company planned to start operating them in Skippers before the peak summer season.