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.’’

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