Can Kaikoura survive?
As Kaikoura’s horror week draws to a close, there is no end in sight for residents and businesses left high and dry following the magnitude-7.8 quake that put paid to the region’s tourist season, writes Emma Dangerfield.
Clearly we have to write off this year’s season, which ironically was shaping up to be one of the most lucrative in years. But do we dare to dream that the town will one day bounce back to show off some of the country’s best assets to our overseas visitors?
Kaikoura is unique in its natural beauty and marine life, and that, at least, remains largely unchanged.
There have been compromises; at least a quarter, if not half, of Kaikoura’s endemic seabirds, the Hutton’s shearwater, are feared wiped out, along with the popular Ohau seal waterfall.
But of more concern is the lifting of the sea floor, which in some places has been as dramatic as 2.5 metres.
The whales and dolphins are likely still there, but until a survey of the seabed is completed it is unclear what effect the changes will have on marine tourism.
Currently the tour operators’ boats are beached on rock due to the significant shift at the South Bay marina, and it is too early to say what can be done to rectify it.
Whale Watch Kaikoura and Encounter Kaikoura, the town’s two main players, do far more for the town than just bring in the tourists.
They support the community in many other ways, through employment, funding, environmental programmes, marketing for the good of the whole region . . . the list goes on.
It is very difficult to imagine Kaikoura getting by without Whale Watch and Encounter Kaikoura.
Accommodation and hospitality businesses are dependent on them, and there is a knock-on effect with that tourism revenue trickling down to almost everyone in Kaikoura.
The Government on Thursday announced a $7.5 million package for small businesses affected by the earthquakes in the form of an eight-week subsidy for businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
While this is good news for many, I
. . . even if we can get whale-watching and dolphin-swimming tours back up and running, will Kaikoura be the same?
can’t help feeling an injustice for the bigger businesses, which are obviously suffering equally from the abrupt ending to the summer.
But even if we can get whale-watching and dolphin-swimming tours back up and running, will Kaikoura be the same? I have to say I doubt it.
We have been trying for some time to encourage visitors to stay for more than one night, and many new events had been established with that in mind.
Many of these, particularly in the shoulder season, targeted domestic travellers and most came from Marlborough and Canterbury.
How many of those will choose to come for the weekend if an extra six hours is added to their journey?
Kaikoura is known for thinking outside the square, for being tenacious, for its innovative, forward-thinking and risk-taking individuals.
But if the highway cannot be reinstated for some time, and I fear this is the case, Kaikoura will have its work cut out to conjure up a miracle if it wants to get visitors through its doors.
Like everyone else I hope and pray Kaikoura can get back on its feet but, if I’m honest, I do so with a sinking feeling.