Aerial rescue for Kaikoura tourism with road closed after quake
Whale watching from the air is set to resume, possibly as early as Tuesday, with tourists flown into earthquake-stricken Kaikoura from other centres.
Only the four companies with whale watch permits can run the aerial tours, and feeder services from outside the area are allowing them to get going again.
Sounds Air has begun running up to six flights a day into and out of Kaikoura, carrying 10 passengers a time.
Chief executive Andrew Crawford said he had received calls from travel agents wanting to get tourists into Kaikoura so they could see the whales, as well as bookings from builders flying into the town and Kaikoura locals keen to leave.
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Christchurch and Blenheim airports had agreed to waive landing fees for three months which helped to keep fares down to $115 one way from Christchurch and $95 from Blenheim.
Sounds Air would reassess the service after three weeks. "If there's demand, we'll keep going," Crawford said.
Air Kaikoura manager Murray Hamilton has arranged to collect tourists in Hanmer Springs for a 15 minute flight to Kaikoura where they would land for a "cuppa" and a snack before heading out on a half hour whale watch tour.
"We wanted to support local businesses," he said.
Other companies - Wings Over Whales, Kaikoura Helicopters and South Pacific Whale Watch - are also prepared to take out any tourists able to arrange transport to the town which has been cut off by slips caused by last week's earthquake.
Kaikoura Helicopters owner Chelsea Armstrong said she had also been contacted by Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses about flying in guests.
On its website, the up-market resort said it was looking at subsidising helicopter and small plane transfers for clients.
Kaikoura is still effectively cut off with only residents of the Inland Road and essential vehicles permitted to drive from Waiau to Mt Lyford and beyond
Whale Watch boss Kauahi Ngapora is calling on the Government to look at all other options if road access cannot be quickly re-established for visitors.
That could include digging a new marina to support a ferry service from Wellington, Picton or Christchurch.
Extending the grass airstrip to take charter planes carrying 50 passengers was another option, he said, and reports on upgrading the airport were done some years ago.
Whale Watch, which employs 70 staff at this time of year, is not eligible for a Government support package offered to smaller businesses.
"If the larger businesses can't be provided with financial support to get us through the tough bit, then we're asking the Government to do what it can to get us up and operating again so we have a fighting chance to go forward.
"We have to have these discussions around key infrastructure to get the place moving again," Ngapora said.
Hamilton said the airfield could not handle anything bigger than a 12-seater Cessna Caravan and he doubted the feasibility of extending it for larger planes.
"We have a hill at one end and a whole heap of pine trees at the other end."
Crawford said any extension would mean moving the terminal building. "I can't see that happening. It's not landing [that's the problem], it's getting out. It's a factor of length and weight."