Kaiko¯ura harbour back in business
Twelve months ago, marine operators stared in disbelief at the carnage the earthquake wrecked on Kaikoura’s South Bay.
The violent 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck just after midnight on November 14, lifted the seabed in and around the harbour more than a metre.
As Whale Watch boats floundered at their moorings, tourism operators, commercial and recreational fishermen and Coastguard Kaiko¯ura were left high and dry.
Whale Watch general manager Kauahi Ngapora said he never thought the coastline would lift as it did.
‘‘I hoped, beyond hope the water level would return - but it never did.’’
Lynette Buurman, who co-owns Encounter Kaiko¯ura together with Dennis Buurman and Ian Bradshaw, said they thought something was going on with the tides.
‘‘It was such a major event it took a while for the scale of what happened to be realised.’’
In February, work started on removing the massive amount of material needed to restore the seabed to pre-quake levels.
The Government initially funded $5 million for the harbour rebuild, but it soon became clear it wasn’t enough, and Whale Watch, Encounter Kaiko¯ura and the Kaiko¯ura District Council stepped up with the $1m shortfall.
The project was set to take a year, however operators were desperate to get their businesses back up and running.
Coastguard Kaiko¯ura’s slipway opened in July, halving the time it took the rescue boat to respond to an emergency call-out.
North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) marina rebuild project manager Stu Haynes said the harbour rebuild had been ‘‘bloody challenging’’ to construct while trying to keep operations open for stakeholders, but they managed to deliver a 15-month construction project in nine months.
‘‘In the ideal world you would put a gate across it and tell everyone to get out, and leave it alone for six months but businesses need to earn revenue and keep their business afloat.
‘‘We rearranged the programme around everyone to suit, and staged it in sections so the different operators were able to keep running.’’
Ngapora said the last year had been a period of survival, adaption, challenge and hard work, and it wasn’t over yet.
Business almost stopped overnight until the Inland Rd opened and a ‘‘trickle’’ of tourists filtered in.
It took 49 days for the commer- cial whale watching business to get to sea with one boat, and one tour a day.
Three Whale Watch boats were moved to a safe berth in Wellington. Tours could only be carried out at high tide, which limited operations drastically. Like everyone else who used the harbour they had to navigate new tidal levels and build temporary infrastructure until excavations were completed.
Whale Watch had a 60 per cent fall in visitor numbers and was operating at only 20 per cent of their capability. Ngapora expected it would be another 18 months
before business returned to prequake levels, but bookings were strong, he said.
‘‘Together our team have navigated some very dark moments and we’ve made it to this point, and we will fully recover this business.’’
As the last pieces of the harbour rebuild came together the operators were looking forward to tourism returning.
Encounter Kaiko¯ura owners agreed it was an incredible feat to have the project finished in a year.
‘‘I expect a project of this magnitude, with the planning, consent process and implementation would normally take three years,’’ Bradshaw said.
‘‘After the earthquake I couldn’t see the problems being resolved in the immediate future - it looked almost like a Herculean task.
‘‘To do it all in 12 months is an outstanding feat.’’
Kaiko¯ura District Council chief executive Angela Oosthuizen said it was great to see all the stakeholders come together.
‘‘We are looking forward to the harbour being open and tourism returning.’’
Dennis Buurman said adding a tender jetty for visiting cruise ships was a great foresight as it had always been an issue not having somewhere for the cruise ship passengers to disembark.
‘‘When we were faced with a situation of not being able to launch our boats everything came to a grinding halt,’’ he said.
‘‘I guess you get over the pain. Now we can look back and all the heartache dissipates when you look at what it is now.’’
The rebuilt South Bay Marina has a jetty for Encounter Kaiko¯ura boats, a new tender jetty for visiting cruise ships and four berths for Whale Watch boats, as well as an extended boat ramp.