Bridge washout hits West Coast tourism

STRAIGHT CUT: The missing section on the north side of the Wanganui River bridge, in South Westland after it washed away on Wednesday.
STRAIGHT CUT: The missing section on the north side of the Wanganui River bridge, in South Westland after it washed away on Wednesday.

Franz Josef businesses are losing up to $10,000 a day as tourists remain cut off from the popular holiday spot, with a vital West Coast road unlikely to reopen until next week.

Floodwaters from the Wanganui River washed out a section of State Highway 6 near Harihari, forcing the closure of the main road along the West Coast and creating a long detour for holidaymakers.

Railway lines across the South Island also remain off-limits, with train services cancelled as workers scramble to fix damage caused by heavy rainfall and flooding.

Tourism West Coast chief executive Jim Little said businesses all across the coast had been affected, with Franz Josef and Fox Glacier hit particularly badly.

"Talking to one business in Franz Josef, they'd normally take in $3800 daily but they're now under $300 a day."

The closure had led to cancellations at many accommodation providers, but bus tour companies had provided some help by continuing to bring tourists into the area via the detour.

Little said businesses would continue to suffer until the road was reopened.

"When you've got one state highway that runs down the coast, you only need one bit of one bridge to be hit and the whole coast is held to ransom."

Fox Glacier Guiding chief executive and Glacier Country Tourism chairman Rob Jewell said bookings at the company were down, although some tourists were still coming from the south of the island.

Franz Inc business group chairman Marcel Fekkes said the road closure had hit Franz Josef tourism operators and other businesses hard during the traditional 10-day "golden period" starting on January 1.

"Visitor numbers are way down at about 30 per cent of what they'd normally be, so we've been hit hard."

Fekkes said he was keen for the road to reopen soon, with some businesses losing up to $10,000 a day.


Westport coal services will be out of action for at least a week while repairs to the weather-hit Buller Gorge track take place.

KiwiRail said its railway line between Christchurch and Greymouth was also still closed, with all train services cancelled along the lines.

The section of line through the Buller Gorge had been significantly damaged, and the treacherous terrain had made it difficult for track workers to assess the damage and start repairs.

Several bridges had been damaged, while slips and washouts had damaged tracks at several locations.

The company said the line between Christchurch and Greymouth would be reopened within four days to allow the Tranz Alpine route and freight services across the Southern Alps to resume.

Coach services had been put in place to transport passengers with bookings on the Tranz Alpine.

However, the Buller Gorge section would remain closed for some time, with coal services from Westport out of action for at least a week.

KiwiRail said it was "in close contact" with Solid Energy about the damage.


The NZ Transport Agency said the road was likely to reopen on Tuesday, with contractors still working to divert the river so repairs could take place.

NZTA West Coast senior asset manager Mark Pinner said water levels had dropped about a metre overnight, allowing workers to start preparations to rebuild the highway.

While the river was still too high for structural engineers to make a detailed inspection of the Wanganui River bridge, Pinner said, the agency was confident that it was safe.

"The piles supporting the bridge have been driven deep into the riverbed and from what we can see already, they appear to have withstood pressure from the huge volume of flood water,'' he said.

''However, we will still be taking a very close look at the bridge when levels drop further so that we are satisfied it is safe to use."

Pinner said the washed-out section of the highway would be temporarily rebuilt with rocks and gravel, with more upgrades taking place later.

The Press