The theft of essential components from the TVNZ television repeater in Whangamata means residents receiving television channels with UHF aerials will now have to switch to satellite television.

Many people will have to buy a Freeview box or Sky TV a year earlier than planned.

Whangamata was due to go completely digital on December 1 next year, but the "disappearance" of solar panels and batteries last week has hastened the process, with TVNZ reportedly saying it is too costly to fix.

A number of Whangamata viewers thought their television sets had gone on the blink. It took a few days for people, after talking to others, to realise that something greater was amiss than their TV or aerial "packing up".


Calls made to TVNZ revealed the facts - essential elements at the repeater site at the end of Peninsula Rd had vanished.

Georgie Hills, spokeswoman for TVNZ which provides TVOne and TV2, confirmed the Whangamata transmission signal was no longer functioning between the Wentworth River at Moana Point and the Otahu River. She believed TV3 was also off the air, but could not comment on its behalf.

"On or about October 16 the TVNZ solar power supply - batteries and regulator - were taken. It is not known when or if the equipment can be restored," she said.

Ms Hills could not confirm if the solar panels had also been removed or whether the theft was reported to police.

"The site is maintained by Kordia, a Crown-owned telco, and their priorities have been to make the site secure and recover the stolen property. It is up to Kordia to report the theft," Ms Hills said.

Whangamata police Sergeant Vince Ranger said the thefts had not been reported and until someone did he could not take any action.

Lance Pitcher, from Pitcher Electrical in Whangamata, said TVNZ told him they would not fix the repeater unless police recovered the stolen parts, as it could cost anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million. It wasn't worth the expense as the peninsula was to go digital next year, they said.

Ms Hills would not confirm the cost to rebuild the repeater.

Mr Pitcher said his company had fielded calls from people worried their televisions weren't working.

"If the repeater isn't repaired then Sky or Freeview are the only options," he said.

Mr Pitcher said the television sets with built-in decoders didn't work on the peninsula and people would still have to buy a set-top box or decoder.

"You don't have to change your TV though. If you have a really old one it can still be used, but might cost a bit more to adjust."

John Stevens, owner of 100 per cent Whangamata, said sales last week had "gone ballistic" with people looking for advice and buying new aerials or parts because they thought the fault lay with their television.

"I'm surprised TVNZ hasn't made any announcements or advertised what's happened. I've heard stories from customers about them climbing on roofs or under their houses trying to find out what's wrong," Mr Stevens said.

"It's actually quite cruel."

In the past week he had sold about 60 Freeview boxes and booked 18 or 20 installations, which includes the satellite dish.

The cost ranged from about $100 for a decoder alone, up to several hundred dollars for an installation.