New Zealand’s Reputation “Vulnerable” after Lake Waikaremoana Bridge Collapses, 4 French Tourists Injured – Updated with Video

Lake Waikaremoana Bridge

Lake Waikaremoana bridge had a “robust and comprehensive” asset management system. By NZ standards.

Four French tourists were fortunate to escape serious injury when the Hopu Ruahine bridge on the Lake Waikaremoana Track collapsed beneath them on 3 September. The group sustained injuries after they plunged 8.5 metres when the Waikaremoana Track Bridge gave way. For an update to this story on 9 Oct 2015 click here

The bridge spans approximately 65m across the river and is 8.5m above the water at the start/end of the track. The bridge is rated for ten people at one time.

The Waikaremoana  bridge collapse is reminiscent of the fatal Cave Creek Disaster, when a scenic viewing platform in the Paparoa National Park failed, resulting in the deaths of 14 people. The victims, 13 of whom were university students, fell 40 metres  onto rocks below. The tragedy resulted in wide criticism of the government and its policies towards funding and management of the conservation estate.

The Cave Creek viewing platform was erected by the state run Department of Conservation (DOC) in April 1994, and looked out over a 40-metre chasm with a view of where the creek emerges from a cave system below. The builders of the platform did not have appropriate qualifications for the job. Ten major problems or oversights occurred during the platform’s construction, including the wrong size of bolts being used. The platform was highly unsafe, especially with large numbers of people on it.

Now we learn from DOC, via the NZ media, that the Waikaremoana bridge collapsed due to a cable “release“. Obviously cables no longer snap, rust through or otherwise fail in New Zealand – they “release” and cause people to “slip off” and fall 8 metres.

Note: New Zealand’s Deputy Director General of Conservation is Mr Mike Slater.

A cable on the Hopu Ruahine bridge on the Lake Waikaremoana Track “released” yesterday afternoon, about 1pm, Department of Conservation operations manager Mike Slater said.

“As a result that has upset the stability of the bridge and that’s where people that were on the bridge have slipped off and fallen.”…

Mr Slater said a full investigation was now underway to work out what had occurred. “We’ve got a very comprehensive and robust asset management system.” source

Robust and comprehensive. So why did the cable “release” and what does this mean for other bridges and platforms in the National Parks? Was the bridge, or any of DOC’s structures inspected after Cyclone Pam in March 2015?

Mr Slater said

 The bridge was last inspected one year ago by a qualified DOC inspector in September 2014 and inspected by an engineer in November 2013…

Mr Slater said there could be implications for other structures in national parks, but DoC would not be checking the safety of all 524 cable bridges throughout the country until this priority investigation was completed.

DOC manages 13,000 visitor structures of which 4000 are bridges. The structures all have 2 yearly inspections by qualified DOC staff, 6 yearly inspections by qualified engineers and every 12 years loading tests are done on bridges. source

Great Walks Bridges

Meanwhile, John Key’s government has been urged to check the bridges on all Great Walks tracks. Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson said DOC needed an immediate funding boost to carry out the checks:

“For them to undertake safety checks now they will need extra resources, they cannot do it out of their existing budget. We cannot afford to have anyone else injured or killed in what is a Department of Conservation facility.”

The Te Urewera board that manages the area with the Department of Conservation said the bridge was last checked in June. Ms Dyson said something had clearly been missed during the check…source

Reputation management and budget cuts

As with any incident involving overseas tourists, the people in charge are very conscious of their overseas reputation. New Zealand has something of a track record for killing and injuring tourists. Ruth Dyson said

“It is a huge relief the four overseas tourists on the Lake Waikaremoana bridge that failed yesterday landed in water and were uninjured. This is good luck not good management. Our reputation cannot rely on luck. source

Indeed it can not. That’s what very comprehensive and robust asset management systems are designed for. Why then was there a need to mention seven years of budget cuts and the intolerable strain this has placed on DOC?…

“The cable failure is not only extremely concerning, it leaves New Zealand vulnerable to harmful tourism reaction. This must be sorted immediately.

Additional resources must be given to the Department to carry out this work as it is obvious the pressures on them following seven years of budget cuts, are causing greater strain than they can tolerate.” source

Our advice to tourists in New Zealand remains unchanged. Do not expect safety standards to be as high, or as rigorously maintained as they are in your own country. Indeed, the father of one deceased British tourist, actually wrote to John Key saying New Zealand’s safety regulations were “third world” after his daughter drowned:

People are going to New Zealand and expecting that it will be regulated like a western country but that really isn’t the case.” Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan also worked with other bereaved families to get New Zealand to adopt higher standards .

Planning a vacation in New Zealand? You may also like to read:

Etienne Lemieux and Louis-Vincent Lessard. Two bodies found. DOC does NOT manage avalanches on the Kepler Track (July 2015) – …From late April to late October, facilities on the Kepler Track are greatly reduced, and there are additional safety hazards to consider. Furthermore, DOC says it does not manage hazards such as flooding or avalanches but still collects fees for hut use, believed to be about $50NZ per adult…

Rescued campers ‘rather foolish’, say police (Sept 2015) – Despite not knowing what equipment the hikers had, their level of experience, or their understanding of English, the two Latvian tourists were branded ‘foolish; for setting off after adverse weather conditions had been forecast in the Nelson Lakes National Park.

All articles tagged: adventure tourism deaths