Believe it or not: The road to Milford Road is New Zealand's most dangerous road, in relation of accidents to the number of cars on the road. This unfortunately means that - although NZ drivers are really bad drivers - tourists are even worse drivers on this road because they pay more attention to the scenery than to the road and the traffic.
For this reason there are many controls. The police target dodgy drivers and speedsters. Just this week (last week of April 2009) we had a story in the Press about the funny excuses speeding tourists have when they get caught. And they did not just go over the limit a little. One driver - a Canadian visitor - was clocked at 150 km/h because he wanted to get up to Auckland quickly, as he said, and a Korean tourist who was fined for driving 145 km/h said he was only driving so fast because he was running out of petrol... To my knowledge you run faster out of petrol if you drive faster... Anyway.
What I want to say: Try to drive on the left side of the road, stop for admiring the scenery, do not exceed the speed limit which is 100 km/h if not signalled otherwise, do not drink and drive, and you should be fine.
Below are some of the stories published lately.
Flying visit ends in weighty fines (The Press on 30/04/2009):
A foreign motorist clocked at 145kmh on the road to Milford Sound was just as quick with his excuse he had to rush to a service station as he was nearly out of petrol.
Police were flabbergasted by the 33-year-old South Korean tourist's reasoning after he was stopped at 6pm on Tuesday for speeding.
He not only received a $510 fine and a 28-day licence suspension, but was given an additional $150 fine for having his four-month-old baby incorrectly restrained in the back seat. His wife and mother were also in the car.
Constable Glenn Matheson, of the Te Anau police, said the baby was in a car seat but not strapped in correctly.
It was unlikely the child would have survived a crash at that speed, he said. The man's mother took over the driving.
An hour earlier, a 31-year-old Canadian man was pulled over after being clocked at 150kmh on the Milford Sound road. He received a $630 fine.
The man was apologetic and admitted to driving at 120kmh, but after being shown the recorded speed was "very sheepish", Matheson said.
He said he was "in a hurry to get to Auckland within three days for a flight".
His travelling companion took over for a long drive north.
Spotlight on dodgy driving pays off (Southland Times on 27/02/2009):
Motorists on the Milford road have come under a formidable police spotlight this week in a crackdown on dangerous driving — with results so far backing up anecdotal evidence of poor driving by tourists.
In the three-day operation, which started on Monday, officers have targeted poor behaviours including passing on yellow lines, cutting corners, drink-driving, speeding and driving while fatigued.
Sergeant Cameron Sigley said officers issued 59 infringement notices yesterday, 32 for speeding and 27 for vehicles crossing the centre line. Of the notices handed out, 80 percent were to overseas drivers. About 320 cars used the road yesterday.
"If you do the math on that, it's about an offence every five vehicles." One tourist was caught doing 118kmh. Shortly after a speeding ticket was issued he was photographed driving around a corner on the opposite side of the road, he said.
As well as enforcing road rules, police also stopped motorists, including bus drivers, and gave them pamphlets highlighting the dangers of crossing the centre line.
Southern district road policing manager Inspector Andrew Burns said the point of the operation was to raise awareness of motoring issues on the Milford road.
"There are issues with the regular road users, like buses and commercial vehicles, as well as tourists," he said.
Based in Dunedin, Mr Burns visited Milford road yesterday to see first-hand how the operation was proceeding.
He indicated the blitz would not be a one-off and that police would implement ongoing enforcement and education programmes on the road.
Mr Burns said the death of Corrina Bedson on January 13, which occurred after the van she was travelling in collided with a bus on the Milford road, was not a catalyst for the blitz.
The police had been looking at driving issues for a while, and it was a matter of assembling the resources to mount an operation, he said.
Eight officers were used at three different locations yesterday. On Monday officers issued 25 infringement notices. The operation concludes today.
Tourists' van rolls over on Milford Road (Southland Times on 23/02/2009):
Two people were airlifted to Southland Hospital with moderate injuries yesterday after a van rolled off State Highway 94 near the Milford Sound end of the Homer Tunnel.
Senior Constable Phillip Robertson, of Te Anau, said nine Singaporean tourists were travelling in the van towards Milford Sound about 8.15am.
"They drove about 200m down the Cleddau Valley and failed to negotiate a moderate left-hand bend. The vehicle crossed the centre line ... and over-turned into the stream bed, which was about 2m below the road."
Mr Robertson said he was first on the scene and found the vehicle unattended, the occupants having been picked up by other motorists and taken to Milford, about 20km away.
Te Anau St John paramedic Annabel Taylor said an ambulance and helicopter were dispatched to Milford from Te Anau, supported by another helicopter from Queenstown.
Two people suffering moderate injuries were taken by helicopter to Southland Hospital and were understood to be in a stable condition. Another five people with minor injuries were transported by road to the Te Anau medical centre for treatment.
Mr Robertson said the driver had been charged with careless driving causing injury.
Mini-van driver lost control (The Press on 01/01/2009):
Police investigating a fatal crash on the Milford Road highway on Sunday believe a mini-van driver lost control in the wet conditions and crossed the centre line, slamming into a stationary bus.
The Mitsubishi L300 mini-van's sole passenger, who died at the scene, was yesterday named as 31-year-old Corrina Virginia Alexandria Bedson, of Wales. Bedson had been working in Glenorchy.
The dead woman's 28-year-old fiance, who was driving the mini-van, is in a serious but stable condition in Dunedin Hospital.
No injuries were reported among the bus passengers, who were all Indian tourists.
Constable Glenn Matheson, of the Te Anau police, said "the bus was stationary ... and was on the far left side of the road". "The van has lost control and crossed the centre line, impacting on the bus."
The mini-van driver and the bus driver have not yet been formally interviewed by police.
Sergeant Tod Hollebon, the officer in charge in Te Anau, said police would be in a better position to say whether charges were likely after investigations at the crash scene and an inspection of the mini-van.
Hollebon said the Milford Road was well known for near misses, with tourists travelling on the wrong side of the road. Education and enforcement could lower the risk, but it was difficult when tourists new to the area used the road each day.
He suggested visitors to Milford take a bus from Te Anau.
"I think there would be more benefit from it because you're not having to concentrate on driving. But independent travel is the way of tourism in New Zealand now, and it's costing lives in this instance."
Police have labelled the stretch of Milford Road from the Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound as having "extreme risk".
Between 2001 and 2005, there were five serious crashes, 11 minor-injury crashes and 21 non-injury accidents.
Tourists were "well represented" in crash rates, Hollebon said.
"It's a difficult road and we have got a large volume of people using it at this time of year, particularly who are unfamiliar with New Zealand conditions, on one of the trickiest main highways in New Zealand."
Downer EDI avalanche control manager Wayne Carran, who has driven the road for 25 years, said when a third of the road was gravel there were up to five crashes a day.
"I don't see anything like the antics I used to see," he said.
"I think, given the volumes on it, the general behaviour is very good."
These mountain parrots, called Keas, can be very mischievous and damaging. They can steel your belongings, even a boot or a camera! They can pick parts off your vehicle, and have been known to remove hubcaps and other attachments!
Fiordland is where they live, and it is their territory. They are smart, and you must always consider their ability to take loose items. No one wants to finish their trek with just one boot!