Department of Conservation Kauaeranga Visitor Centre

Connection challenge in remote Coromandel area proves no problem for Lightwire

A partnership between internet provider Lightwire and the Department of Conversation has revolutionised staff and visitor experience at the remote Kauaeranga Visitor Centre. A chance meeting between John Rich, DoC Ranger, Partnerships for Hauraki-Coromandel District, and Ben Dunbar-Smith from Thames Coromandel District Council, resulted in a collaboration with Waikato-based internet provider, Lightwire, and the implementation of fast, reliable broadband.


The background

Each year, more than 30,000 people visit the Department of Conservation Kauaeranga Visitor Centre. As the gateway to the Coromandel Forest Park and Northern Coromandel region, the visitor centre is the first port of call for both local and international tourists booking hut passes, camping spots and requesting track information.

Since 2008, the visitor centre’s broadband service has been on satellite, unreliable and very slow. Visitor centre staff were becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to do their jobs properly.

The problem

The Department of Conservation Kauaeranga Visitor Centre is 11kms inland from Thames, up a no exit valley road. An unsatisfactory satellite broadband service and no cell phone coverage meant staff and visitors were struggling to do even the simplest of tasks online.

“The system we were using was very antiquated and slow and the staff often had to go into the Thames office to get work done,” explains John.

In 2015 Lightwire, which provides complex network, data and internet solutions to rural, residential and business customers Waikato wide, installed a rural tower on a high ridge on the side of the Kauaeranga Valley. This site provided cover to most of the valley but didn’t extend as far as the visitor centre itself.

However, Lightwire founder, Murray Pearson enjoys nothing better than a challenge. So, when a point 500metres from the visitor centre was found to be in coverage, Murray and his team were determined to find a solution. The catch? Those 500metres were through dense bush.

“We realised early on that this solution was going to be a challenging one and would require a number of different components,” explains Murray. Lightwire already provided fast, reliable broadband to Thames so the team got to work taking that service 11km inland.

The solution

The final solution comprised a Lightwire CPE (radio device) installed in the bush at a location with line of sight (LOS) to the Lightwire tower. This was cabled back to a point 50metres away which had access to power. From this point, Murray’s team could see a DoC workshop 150metres from the visitor centre so a wireless bridge was set up.

“To bridge the last 150metres a fibre connection was laid from the workshop through the bush to the visitor centre,” says Murray. “This fibre connection was also used to extend the visitor centre LAN back to the workshop so the computers there could join the DoC network without needing their own separate Internet connection.”

All of the devices used in the solution are monitored by the Lightwire Network operations centre so any faults can be identified and rectified in a timely manner. Furthermore, there was no impact on the environment.

The result

“The result has been revolutionary,” exclaims John. “The Lightwire connection has literally changed their world up in the visitor centre. The internet works just as it does in town.”

Such is the success of Lightwire’s connection, there is potential for the broadband solution to be extended further up the valley. “It has opened up all sorts of possibilities,” enthuses John. “Many of the interpretive programmes we run could go online, CCTV cameras at various sites could be monitored remotely and we could link to the Pinnacles Hut [the largest DoC hut in New Zealand] as well, for added health and safety.”

There have been cost savings too. One cable now provides a broadband connection to both the visitor centre and the DoC workshop on site, where previously two satellites were required. “It’s working really well and we can see the potential for other remote DoC centres too, in places like Milford, the Ureweras and Great Barrier Island,” says John.

Working in partnership

Fast, reliable broadband and happy, efficient staff aren’t the only beneficial results to come out of this project. It has also been an exercise in partnership. “Lightwire’s solution has enabled us to fully service our customers and work with a forward-thinking company,” says John.
“Partnering with our local community is incredibly important to DOC’s ethos and we’ve achieved that and more.”