Cold snap freezes Queenstown tourism
By Leanne Malcolm
The big freeze in the lower South Island is starting to impact on tourism.
Central Otago has recorded severe frosts for the past nine days, with overnight air temperatures regularly getting down to -10degC and -11degC.
The popular Shotover Jet has been off the river now for eight days, and that translates to financial losses of around $500,000.
The operators took 3 News out on the river to show just how iced up it is.
It has been looking like a scene from Antarctica, but it is Queenstown's Shotover River, and even in the middle of the day it’s absolutely freezing.
“The air temperature where we're standing is about -2degC/-3degC,” says Shotover Jet head driver Nick Simpson. “Then throw in a wind chill and we can get down to -25degC in wind chill, and that sort of temperature assaults the body.”
The Shotover River is choked with ice, and it’s too dangerous for boats to operate because chunks get sucked into the jet units and they lose power and steering. Still, hopeful tourists keep turning up.
Harbourmaster Marty Black says the last time he can remember it this bad was nearly 20 ago.
“People have even been curling on the marina, lakes are that frozen,” says Mr Black.
He's not recommending others try to negotiate the ice. He says frozen ponds can be a death trap.
“It’s dangerous for the kids to walk on iced-up waterways because it may not be as thick as they think it is.”
Shotover Jet is a big-ticket attraction in Queenstown all year round. Normally at this time, up to six or 700 passengers a day take the thrill-seeking ride. But for now, business is frozen – literally.
“The last thing we want is people stuck in a boat down the river in the cold not being able to go anywhere,” says Mr Simpson.
That happened to Mr Simpson yesterday. He waited in the canyon for an hour and a half before being rescued, but he avoided a similar fate on today's scouting mission.
The fact that a fast-flowing river like the Shotover can freeze so much is testimony to the severity of the frosts we've been experiencing, and they are expected to continue for another three to four days yet.