Winter 2023 Otago and Southland: Simple tips to stay safe

by NZTA media release - Jun 06, 2023

June marks the official start of winter and with it, winter driving conditions, says Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.

“Now is a good time to make sure your vehicle is warranted and safe and that you know what to do if you were to strike black ice,” says Nicole Felts, Journey Manager for Waka Kotahi in Otago and Southland.

“Winter also means our mornings are darker for longer and our evenings are darker earlier. Turning your headlights on makes it much easier for other road users to see you and reduces the risk of crashes.”

While Waka Kotahi contractors have comprehensive winter maintenance plans in place, they rely upon road users to also step up in more treacherous winter conditions. While a temporary highway closure to clear snow or lay grit might be inconvenient, your safety and the safety of other road users is the reason for any closures.

“Winter weather forecasting from MetService helps our teams predict which areas of highways are likely to cause problems, allowing early application of grit, and de-icing agents, snow ploughing and temporary traffic management if necessary,” says Miss Felts. “But please remember our crews will be out in freezing conditions from 4 or 5 am and they work hard to keep everyone safe. A smile is always appreciated.”

Milford Sound/ Piopiotahi road, SH94, avalanche season: Regular users of this spectacular highway may be aware that the avalanche season will start in the coming month and run through until October. This means there may be restrictions or overnight closures from time to time. Email [email protected] to get on the list for daily updates.

Patches of highway more often affected by snow and ice in Otago and Southland:

SH8, the Lindis Pass, Omarama to Cromwell/Wanaka

SH1 north of Dunedin to Waitati

SH93 Clinton to Mataura

SH6 Kingston to Lumsden, Jollies Hill and Athol

SH 94 Mossburn to Te Anau, Gorge Hill

SH94 Te Anau to Milford Sound/Piopiotahi

SH6 and SH8 through Central Otago

SH85 Palmerston to Ranfurly (sometimes called the Pig Route)/Alexandra

SH87 Mosgiel to Middlemarch/ Kyeburn

SH6 Makarora to Haast

The Crown Range, a locally managed road linking Wanaka and Queenstown, catches its fair share of snow and ice, with chains required from time to time. Please check QLDC’s facebook page for updates and workshops on how to fit chains:

Preparation and tips

“We encourage road users to delay travel in poor weather and if possible, to travel in daylight hours when ice and snow is less likely to be encountered,” says Miss Felts. But if you do have to travel and the weather is wintery, these tips may make all the difference:

  • Allow for much greater braking distances and avoid braking suddenly.
  • For long trips, pack warm clothes, snacks, make sure your phone is charged and keep up to date with weather forecasts and latest roading conditions.
  • Turn on your headlights, early in the morning and as dusk falls.
  • If you are following a de-icing truck, keep as far behind as you can.
  • Road users can call 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49) or visit to find the latest road information.
  • More winter driving tips here.

Black ice

Black ice is usually transparent so the black road surface is all you see. Often you won’t be aware of it until you feel your wheels losing traction/ slipping. It is often found on bridges and in shaded spots under tree overhangs, areas which do not catch the sun in winter.

  1. As soon as your car begins to slide on black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal.
  2. Don't slam the brakes.
  3. Look for trouble spots ahead.
  4. If your car does begin to skid on the ice, turn the wheel in the direction of the skid.
  5. Leave plenty of space between your car and the other cars on the road.

Will you tow us out?

Waka Kotahi contractors are instructed to only tow vehicles that are in a hazardous position or affecting the contractor’s ability to open or maintain the road, if it is safe to do so. Vehicles will only be towed to the nearest safe pull-over area. All reasonable care will be taken, but the contractor cannot accept liability for damage. Ultimately vehicle owners are responsible for the recovery of their vehicle if they get stuck.


At the start and end of the day be aware that sunstrike can be blinding as the sun’s rays are at low angles. Before a journey, clean your windscreen inside and out thoroughly.

Truck drivers

Transport operators are expected to make sure their drivers are experienced for the conditions, that trucks are appropriately loaded, and equipped for the conditions. The requirement Waka Kotahi sometimes places – “chains required and no towing vehicles” – is because vehicles which are towing trailers/ extra loads can be extremely unstable on ice and snow.

The legal picture

Please remember it is illegal to drive on a closed state highway or ignore restrictions by the road manager. If you ignore road closures and restrictions: Crews will notify Police. This may affect your insurance cover and you will be required to cover costs if you cause any damage.

Useful videos of our southern highways, made after last winter (2022)

Preparing for the worst of NZ’s weather: How Waka Kotahi works with MetService and benefits from a network of 60 weather stations nationally. Gerard Williams of Aspiring Highways noting how the forecasts help safeguard road users as well as Waka Kotahi and council road crews:

Lindis Pass - tough winter: Robert Choveaux, Waka Kotahi Structures Manager for Otago and Southland, goes over the winter of 2022 – one-and-a-half metres of snow on the first dump early in July. “It just snowballed from there.” Marty Rendall of Aspiring Highways commenting on the high river levels and flow-over onto the highway. “The Lindis Pass is the main route for food for supermarkets in Central Otago.”

Lindis Pass - More than a road: Nayland Smith, Senior Constable at Omarama describes the wettest winter he has seen in 11 years, reiterated by Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan. On the Lindis Pass: “It’s a lifeline.” Tarras Country Café proprietors and the Omarama Fire Service also comment on the route’s importance for them.

Main image (Supplied): The Crown Range Road catches its fair share of snow and ice.

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