Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Weather chaos: Traffic gridlocked as holidaymakers flee

It seemed like a good idea at the time. But people hoping to arrive home early and flee miserable weather instead ran into heavy traffic in parts of the country today.

The morning and afternoon passed without any more fatal crashes, but a spate of accidents caused delays, compounding misery for motorists.

Rhonda Matthews decided to leave the Coromandel two days early to avoid the foul weather forecast.

But she said it took three hours today to get from Hot Water Beach to Thames, a journey of just 62km.

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At 3.30pm she was stuck in gridlock on the sodden road. "We're stopped. We're dead stopped."

Matthews said most motorists were considerate, although one other driver tried sneaking past the queues by putting hazard lights on, overtaking on a double-yellow line, and almost causing a head-on collision with oncoming traffic.

Another holidaymaker, leaving the stormy Coromandel town of Matarangi two days early, was also stuck in gridlocked traffic this afternoon.

"We are crawling along when we are not at a standstill."

She said State Highway 25 between Whitianga and Tairua was gridlocked and it took about 15 minutes to travel less than a kilometre.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) said with heavy rain warnings effective for most of the country, motorists should slow down and drive to the conditions.

Traffic builds up as people leave the Coromandel for Auckland early due to bad weather. Photo / Rhonda Matthews
Traffic builds up as people leave the Coromandel for Auckland early due to bad weather. Photo / Rhonda Matthews

In some areas, congestion was expected to keep flaring as more people returned home.

The NZTA expected heavy southbound traffic for State Highway 1 south of Kaikoura until Monday.

Some of the biggest traffic disruptions today were near holiday hotspots.

About 9am one person was seriously injured and three others were moderately injured after a crash in Tolaga Bay. Three ambulances and a helicopter were sent to the scene. All four patients were taken to Gisborne Hospital.

State Highway 35 between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay was closed until about 12.30pm.

Between Matamata and Tauranga, State Highway 29 was temporarily closed to large vehicles because of high winds.

In the Bay of Plenty, a crash on SH2 near Kutarere, east of Opotiki, brought power lines down.

Shortly after noon, there were delays after a crash on SH1 at Brynderwyn, south of Whangarei. The crash scene was cleared about an hour later.

More traffic chaos erupted this afternoon with a crash on SH1 near Puhoi involving three cars and a truck.

Police said some of the people involved in the crash had moderate injuries. The highway was closed after the crash at Schedewys Hill, between Schollum Access Rd and Mahurangi West Rd.

Rain drains the life out of Russell in the Bay of Islands. Photo / Kate Owens
Rain drains the life out of Russell in the Bay of Islands. Photo / Kate Owens

Meanwhile, Sergeant Ray Wylie of Whakatane Police said he was disappointed after three people, including a baby, were injured in two New Year's Day crashes in the area.

A 43-year-old man was on life support in the intensive care unit of Waikato Hospital after that crash. A 1-year-old child, also on the bike, had arm injuries and was in a stable condition.

After another crash at Waiotahe, a driver was also in Waikato Hospital's intensive care unit and on life support.

"Initial inquiries indicate a vehicle crossed the centre line into the path of two oncoming vehicles," Wylie said.

"This is not a great start to the year and is not the way we want to carry on. Despite previous road safety messages, drivers and riders are still failing to heed previous warnings."

Meanwhile, a Swiss national remained in a critical condition after the New Year's Eve bus crash near Arthur's Pass.

Six Chinese nationals and another Swiss national were also stable in Christchurch Hospital this evening.

The current holiday road toll is 8, down from 12 at the same point last year, but higher than the tolls in both 2012/13 and the 2013/14 season.

The Ministry of Transport holiday period started at 4pm on Christmas Eve and ends at 6am on Tuesday.

Rainfall

Fresh MetService forecasts predict another 60-80mm of rain for northern and eastern parts of Northland to 6am tomorrow, with another 30-50mm possible in remaining areas.

Maximum hourly rainfall rates are predicted to be 15-20mm overnight and early Sunday morning.

Northland Regional Council figures show between 6pm New Year's Eve and 11am today several eastern parts of the region had received more rain than they would typically get for the entire month of January.

Since 6pm New Year's Eve, Oakura had 167mm rain compared with the 106mm it usually had for all of an average January. The Ngunguru area had 154.5mm over the same period (its January average is 137mm), and the Whangaroa Coast, east of Kaeo, 129mm (just over its 127mm January average).

Between 6pm New Year's Eve and 11am today, 106.6mm had fallen at the Marsden Pt oil refinery, 87mm at Whangarei airport and 75mm at Kerikeri.

In contrast, just 11.5mm had fallen over the same period at Kaitaia and 16.4mm at Dargaville.

- Herald on Sunday

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