Kaiko¯ura a town apart
It was a scene of perverse irony: a few days after Kaiko¯ura was devastated by the earthquake, still cut off to all but sea or air travel, residents gathered to receive free petrol vouchers as part of the emergency response.
Danny Smith, soon to be the town’s earthquake recovery manager, saw a guy he knew.
‘‘He said, ‘I don’t know what I want this for, I’ve got nowhere to go. I can only travel about 15 kays.’’
So began Kaiko¯ura’s difficult post-earthquake relationship with the rest of New Zealand. Once the perfect midpoint on SH1 between Picton and Christchurch, it now sits an outpost at the wrong end of a ragged, windy, substandard loop road that since November 14 last year is its only tangible connection to the outside world.
Two key parts of that route – SH1 south to Christchurch and the Inland Rd to Waiau – were impassable after the earthquake. Both were cleared by Christmas but are still encumbered by single lanes, detours, partial closures and endless stop-go signs. For Kaiko¯ura residents, that situation is, at best, tolerable. Many of them have December 15 – the elusive reopening date – etched into their minds.
‘‘It’s just a totally different perception when you have to drive to a destination and drive the same way back from the destination to leave,’’ Encounter Kaiko¯ura business manager Lynette Buurman says.
She estimated the business, which specialises in dolphin and albatross viewing boat tours, garnered half its business from drive-through traffic. A good chunk of that is foreign visitors, who account for about 80 per cent of Kaiko¯ura’s tourism and, when they arrive off the ferry in Picton, now head for Nelson and the West Coast rather than brave the seven-hour trek to get to a town that is, technically, only about 200km away.
‘‘We need [the road] open,’’ Destination Kaiko¯ura manager Glenn Ormsby says.
‘‘We can’t wait. If it’s closed in the evenings, because of danger, so be it. But it needs to be open. We need that access going north.
‘‘A lot of operators I talk to are telling us their forward bookings are looking very good for summer. They’re way up. So if it’s not open …’’
That would be bad for everyone. A soft reopening is a whole lot better than none at all.
Kaiko¯ura resident Sue Posa travels to Christchurch once every two months to visit her daughters.
‘‘It’s trying at times,’’ she says, ‘‘I know some people that haven’t left yet.’’
‘‘The frustrating thing is if something breaks you’ve got nowhere to replace it. You have to rely on people bringing it in for you. A couple of weeks ago someone needed a washer for their tap. No-one in town had a washer.’’
Still, mission accomplished on December 15 does not spell relief for everyone. Dave Stanford, owner of the Lazy Shag Backpackers, is operating on a fraction of his pre-earthquake business. He does not expect the rest of it to return next month.
‘‘Our clientele is Kiwi Experiences, Stray Travel: Big [bus] companies. They need reliability. They can’t drop all their beds in Nelson and then say there’s been two days of rain in Kaiko¯ura, the roads are closed.
‘‘Until [NCTIR] can actually open the road constantly we’re in the same position’’.
Craypot Cafe owner Kevin Brown only reopened his business three months ago. Until then it was more profitable to rent the space to an insurance company that needed a shop front in town. Even now, he is still just ‘‘treading water’’.
‘‘The end is in sight. [But] what’s open? A couple of convoys each way? The true getting back to normal is a year away.’’
Normal came to Kaiko¯ura for one weekend last month when the town’s annual Seafest drew a comparable crowd to 2016, packed out local accommodation and forced a gate closure – for capacity reasons – on the Saturday afternoon. The event nearly didn’t happen, Mayor Winston Gray says, as organisers feared it would be hobbled by rain or a road closure. Several stalls cancelled in the week before the event, he says, citing access issues.
‘‘That was quite difficult compared to most years. But it was really surprising, the support we got for that.’’