Road access issues, harbour still top of the list for Kaikoura businesses
Local Kaikoura business owners told Steven Joyce that road access, harbour access and making the town a destination were key priorities.
The new infrastructure minister travelled up State Highway 1 from Christchurch to Kaikoura on Wednesday to check on the condition of the highway, returning by the inland road.
Joyce made a swift visit to town for a meeting with several local businesses, including tourism operators Encounter Kaikoura and Whale Watch Kaikoura. He also swung by South Bay harbour to check dredging progress.
Joyce said the meeting, his third in Kaikoura since the November 14 quake, was to "get a temperature check" of how businesses were going and to work out how to "get the blood pumping through the town".
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"Part of it today is to get a sense of what you've managed so far with tourism from the south, what you think is going to happen next, what your worries are."
Familiar issues such as road access and harbour access for tourism and fishing boats were reinforced, while other issues such as inadequacies in passing on key information to foreign tourists and improving Kaikoura's status as a destination were also raised.
At the meeting, NZTA earthquake recovery manager Steve Mutton said they were looking to have SH1 north of Kaikoura fully functional by Christmas, if not sooner.
"I'm very confident ... that we will be able to open that up earlier, and we're driven and passionate about doing that – but we need to do it safely."
He said the agency's immediate "pure focus" had been to get the town connected by road as they knew it was their lifeline but work had been put in to prepare for the work to the north.
"There's been a whole lot of stuff that's been happening in the background that you don't know about for the north."
"What we want to do is clear tracks around the toes of all the the slips north of Kaikoura so we can get to Ohau Point."
"Once we do that, we're going to have crews attacking that slip-front from both sides. While we do that we're going to have other multiple crews working on all the other slips between Kaikoura and Ohau and Ohau and Clarence."
Mutton said they were putting "like a million litres of water on those slips every day" to take the loose material away, as well as using abseilers in the area to direct where the "very targeted" sluicing was going.
At the second major slip north of Kaikoura, sluicing had exposed two massive rocks hanging over the road. Mutton said each one weighed over 100 tonnes.
"So suddenly we've got a bit of an issue here, to decide what to do, and we're probably going to blast those rocks out, because we've got to look at resilience for the route for the long-term."
Meanwhile, the highway south of Kaikoura will continue to see closures as stabilisation work continued, with road closures scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday to allow more rock to be sluiced and removed.
Despite the road being open, there were still issues with getting people to Kaikoura.
Whale Watch Kaikoura general manager Kauahi Ngapora said some tourists were still struggling to get to Kaikoura despite the open roads, and the challenge was improving delivery of relevant information to international visitors.
Another challenge was that Google maps was currently unable to find a route to Kaikoura he said.
"If we're talking about becoming a destination we need people to be able to find us."
The marine mammals were the "key drawcard" needed to make Kaikoura a destination, but that was restricted by harbour access for the big tour boats, making harbour work "critical", said Ngapora.
Whale Watch are currently running three tours per day. Normally, they would be running 16 trips per day at this time of year.