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Roading and Transport

The road signs do not lead to Whitianga

The summer weather was spectacular, the roads are much better, and the visitors have been back and spending money; that is, those visitors who could find Whitianga to come and spend their money. No thanks to our directional and promotional road signage.
 |  Suzanne Hansen  | 

Of course, many already know their way to and around Whitianga, because they live here or have frequently visited, but what about those who are new visitors to the area, or new migrants?

There are quite a few stories of those coming into town for the first time and getting quite confused about where our town centre really exists. After the last sign leaving the Coroglen Tavern, 16 km north, the first sign announcing your entry into Whitianga you will come across is this confusing sign.

This is the first directional entrance sign on the main highway from the south welcoming visitors and others doing business here, to the town of Whitianga. It is problematic as it does not point out the direction to the town centre but does point out Moewai Rd and South Highway West – both dead ends.

Not only is this not welcoming for first time entrants, but even those who have not travelled to Whitianga in a few years, get confused.

There are various related incidents of travellers turning into one of these roads thinking they are heading into town. The sign does tell you that the town of Coromandel – or is that just the whole Coromandel Peninsula, it’s not really clear on the sign – is straight ahead. That’s not confusing at all. There’s not even a directional sign to our airport, which has regularly scheduled commuter flights in and out of Whitianga. Luckily the airport is pretty obvious, but is this a professional look for a tourist town?

Further along towards the sea, there are subsequent signs. The first one, the sign with Coromandel (again could be town or peninsula) gives us the distance but no direction of how to get there. The subsequent town centre signs are useful when they appear but would be much more useful way further back to prevent wrong turns.

When Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency was contacted on the matter, they said,

“Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention. South Highway 25 was moved in 2003 and I think some older GPS maps could be telling drivers to use South Highway. With GPS upgrades, we’ve seen less and less confusion at this location.”

Tell that to the tourists that unsuccessfully tried to go over the Tapu Coroglen road when it was closed at the advice of Apple Maps.

NZTA add, “We would be happy to add “Whitianga Town Centre” to the top row of this sign to provide more guidance, but it would require new signs, posts and foundations and there is a finite amount of funding available and growing demands on the roading network.

Therefore, the most cost-effective solution is to add the “Whitianga Town” signage when the signs are next due for replacement”.

When asked on the time frame for that, the agency intimated that the signs are in such good condition that their replacement is in the distant future.

Of course, visitors can also drive into town from the north, which was a main access road for all of us with the road closures. The situation there is slightly better, because there are a few welcoming signs, even bi-lingual, for Wharekaho, but outside of a small strip sign above a speed sign warning you that you are already in Whitianga so “slow down”, there is little else until you get to the turn-off to the by-pass.  The directional signs from there are pretty clear.

As for signs welcoming visitors into our fair village, these are not in a much better situation. There is the older welcome sign, erected by the Whitianga Lions Club several years ago, which has certainly served its purpose, but now seems a little worn and in need of brightening and enlargement.

Perhaps a project to create a welcoming sign that demonstrates that you are entering into one of New Zealand’s most iconic seaside villages would be just the thing.  We could partner back with the Lions to create something more contextual and thematic for Whitianga. Also, since there is nothing welcoming visitors to Whitianga from the northern, outside of a “slow down” to 50 KPH sign, perhaps we could duplicate such a thematic sign on the northern entrance to Whitianga. Perhaps it’s time for the community to work together to enable people to know what a special place they have entered.