The Hari Hari community is still waiting for universal cellphone cover with residents having to go down the road to receive or make calls.
The issue of skeletal cellphone cover in South Westland - which has a 200km black spot between Fox Glacier and Makarora - is again in focus following the death of a tourist near Lake Moeraki a fortnight ago. The woman who died might have received help earlier had there been reception to notify emergency services following the crash.
Hari Hari resident Jenny Adamson yesterday pointed out Hari Hari had virtually no reception while much smaller West Coast settlements such as Barrytown did.
Part of Hari Hari township, from the cemetery south-ward along State highway 6 towards Whataroa, had a patch of reception but most residents and businesses were in a blackspot, Mrs Adamson said.
"On fine days we can get text messages, but can't receive or make phone calls," she said.
The rural nurse clinic answerphone for the area gave an emergency cellphone number to talk to a nurse, "but sadly the clinic does not receive any reception".
Mrs Adamson said Hari Hari had a sizable hotel-motel which accommodated many tourists who could not use their phones unless they walked down to the cemetery.
She had spoken to Spark "many times" which could give no undertaking to improve reception.
Health agencies often reminded people of appointments via cell phone, unaware of the lack of reception, she said.
"My specialist in Christchurch still rings on the cellphone which means I have to go down the road to get the message. In my mind, totally unacceptable especially when it is wet."
Another Hari Hari resident, Karen Mathieson, said she now forgot to keep her phone charged given it was mostly unusable, after moving to the area four years ago
Vodafone reception was just present at the northern end of the town -- on the hotel's window sill -- but there was none from Spark. "If we can get full coverage that would be awesome," Mrs Mathieson said.
Wanganui Flat resident Mary Molloy, without cellphone reception, confirmed the Hari Hari residents group had been advocating for better cover.
She suggested the West Coast District Health Board had a role in the lobbying given its reliance on effective communication to serve the region.
Spark media spokeswoman Vicky Gray said Spark would "love to cover everyone" but New Zealand's challenging topography and low population density made this "simply impossible".
Access to infrastructure, topography, accessibility and the number of customers were all factors.
"Unfortunately we don't currently have plans to extend our mobile coverage in the Hari Hari or the Haast areas."
The Spark mobile tower at Mount Hercules, to the north of Hari Hari covered some customers. Improvements in August had provided "some limited improvement", with the company noting an increase in local use at the site in the past month. Spark had invested $1 million in co-locating on a number of the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative sites on the Coast, in the past two years.
Vodafone said it was committed to connecting more New Zealanders than ever before.
- Greymouth Star