Formidable job ahead for Kaikoura road repairers
Contractors have made some progress on the Inland Road to Kaikoura and State Highway 1 south of the embattled township. The section of highway north of the town is yet to get some attention. Reporter MARTIN VAN BEYNEN and photographer GEORGE HEARD go for a walk.
We start early, well before the helicopters start their daily run up the coast.
It's a grey morning, very different to the previous three days when the weather has been well-nigh perfect.
We walk for about three hours along State Highway 1, dodging one scene of destruction after the other, before turning back.
It's a strange feeling walking in the middle of a deserted highway. We keep expecting a car or truck to come racing around the corner.
The size and frequency of the slips on the route highlight again how easily the earthquake could have caused multiple fatalities. It's not hard to imagine a busload of tourists perishing under a slip or being smashed by a huge boulder.
Images taken from the air don't do justice to the extent to which hillsides have simply dropped onto the road and railway and the damage caused.
The smashed railway tracks look like toy tracks from the air but walking on them is a different story.
The section of State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura, which we are walking, is one of the highlights of the New Zealand tourist trail.
The magnificent Kaikoura coast with its surf beaches and wildlife are a stone's throw from the road. Seals and their pups could be seen lazing on the rocks oblivious to the attention.
The highway includes the Ohau lookout and the famous Ohau stream where seal pups socialise from April to October. The famous Nins Bin crayfish caravan is also on the route and the area is dotted with scenic reserves.
Now the highway is closed to traffic from Mill Rd, just north of Kaikoura but it's still well used.
The trouble starts north of the Hapuku River where the road bends around the various points jutting out from the coast.
Railway tunnels make the route easier for the trains and appear mostly undamaged.
The first massive slips are on the sharp bends lending into Rakautara and have trapped the train which has captured much attention so far.
Rakautara resident Tahua Solomon is up early. No traffic, no trains. "Paradise," he says, as his horse Fern grazes near his deck.
"We know the risk here so everybody has got good supplies."
Solomon looks out on a vastly different coastline to a few weeks ago. The former low tide mark is the new high tide mark, he says.
The road past Rakautara and Nins Bin Crayfish looks virtually unscathed and rubber marks on the road show some local hoons have used the lack of traffic to practice their driving skills.
Past Rakautara comes Half Moon Bay and another gigantic slip has pushed the railway tracks about 50 metres towards the sea. One section of track is suspended above the rocks like a chain bridge. Plenty of seals are about.
The Ohau Point lookout platform is the next landmark and its stonework is completely intact. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Ohau Point where perhaps the most spectacular slip has inundated the highway.
The Ohau stream is still flowing but the track up to the waterfall is blocked by a series of slips.
The three hour walk with a few stops gets us as far as the Okiwi Scenic Reserve, just north of the Black Miller Stream, and another huge slip. Paua are dying among the rocks.
Removing the debris will only be half the problem. The debris needs to go somewhere and the steep faces need to be secured.
A formidable job lies ahead and the seals will be watching.