Little Lyford booms after the North Canterbury quake

GEORGE HEARD/Stuff.co.nz

Mt Lyford ski field is still operating after the November 14 earthquake.


We should know this by now but Mt Lyford village and ski field in North Canterbury remind us that earthquakes and their consequences are random. Some people are devastated, others not. Neighbouring towns wind up treated differently. There are winners and losers.

Almost every one of the 60 or so baches and homes in tiny Lyford were damaged – certainly their contents were smashed – in last November's magnitude 7.8 earthquake – the strongest ground shaking recorded in New Zealand.

But luck, geography and hard work have meant the village has boomed since then.

"The economy here has gone crazy," says Hamish Simpson, manager of the ski field.

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Kaikoura discovers silver lining to November 14 earthquake

Despite cruel predictions in the weeks after the quake, the ski field is scheduled to open on Thursday.
Mt Lyford Lodge co-owners Jenny Yeoman, left, and Angela Hunt. Their gamble paid off.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Mt Lyford Lodge co-owners Jenny Yeoman, left, and Angela Hunt. Their gamble paid off.

That will be good for area but the real key to the economic boom has been the Kaikoura inland road  and the plentiful accommodation available at Lyford.

The inland road – a windy, narrow and little-used route from Culverden to Kaikoura – became a lifeline after the earthquake closed State Highway 1 between roughly Cheviot and Kaikoura.

Civil Defence officials and soon roading contractors flooded into Lyford, desperate to get the road open and then improved. Work continues on bridges, culverts and slips.

Those officials and workers needed accommodation and food, and Mt Lyford Lodge was well placed to provide both.

"The business has taken off," says co-owner Jenny Yeoman.

The lodge is a huge log structure that sits on the flat beside the inland road. It performed "brilliantly" in the quake, Yeoman says. There wasn't a single broken window.

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Oh, the building "twisted and turned. Dad, who was staying here that night, thought he was going to die," she says.

But he didn't and the lodge became a refuge for residents and visitors.

About four kilometres up a side road sits Mt Lyford Village, a collection of baches and a few permanent homes. They mostly service the ski field, much higher up the village road.

Late on quake night – Sunday, November 14 – Doug Simpson got the village road open using the ski field's heavy digger. That got villagers down to the lodge, which was the civil defence plan.

When an aftershock closed the village road a few hours later, Doug Simpson dug it out again.

At first it seemed many baches and homes would have to be demolished. There were fears the village would be abandoned.

But seven months after the quake, it's now clear that many baches are at least habitable.

Some have been rented to roading contractors and a plan has been developed for skiers and families, says Claudine Barnes, owner of the Mt Lyford Holiday homes website.

Contractors occupy the baches Monday night to Friday morning and then clear out. Cleaners then whip round to get everything ready for weekenders.

And the school holidays are a "no-go zone" for roading contractors, she says.

The economy has gone crazy, says ski field manager Hamish Simpson.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

The economy has gone crazy, says ski field manager Hamish Simpson.

This works for the Simpson family, owners and managers of the ski field.

There was so much to be done immediately after the quake that they didn't turn their attention to the ski field and its access road for a few weeks.

"The ski road was reasonably munted and only half existed in some places," says Doug Simpson.

By about Christmas, Tim Simpson had opened the road with heavy machines and the family gingerly examined the ski lifts, day lodge and other facilities.

The cafe was on the floor, ski boots and other rental gear were strewn about.

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But there was "no real structural damage", says Hamish Simpson. The ski lifts – one T-bar, two platters and two versions of a rope tow – were unaffected.

Some hillsides slumped but this won't affect skiable terrain. Indeed, the Simpsons used their heavy machines to mould a small knob and open new terrain within the ski area boundary.

"We were never not going to open," says Doug Simpson. "That was the important thing ... we needed a business going."

He and his wife Jenny used to farm Lyford but poor returns and an excess of snow meant farming was marginal at best. 

About 1990, they founded the ski field and sub-divided some of the farm into 4000 square metre (one acre) sections for baches. Under rules they established, structures had to be log cabins and have an alpine look.

Mt Lyford ski field is scheduled to open on Thursday.
Mt Lyford Alpine Resort

Mt Lyford ski field is scheduled to open on Thursday.

The family also founded a construction company to build many of these baches and also built Mt Lyford Lodge for its first owner. Their sons, Hamish and Tim, now manage the ski field.

Stuff visited Lyford last spring and came away with the impression the village was caught in a sleepy mode called "mountain time".

That article was published on a Saturday morning and the 7.8er hit a few minutes after midnight on the Monday. 

"We were never not going to open," says ski field founder Doug Simpson.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

"We were never not going to open," says ski field founder Doug Simpson.

Stuff returned to Lyford recently to see how residents had fared. 

Sleepy no more.

This second visit came about 11 months after Jenny Yeoman, her sister Angela Hunt and her husband Tony bought Mt Lyford Lodge. It was a risky turn, they conceded.

The lodge had stumbled through a variety of owners over the years and traffic on the Inland Rd was intermittent. They were hoping for a good ski season this year to see them through.

"We're in good heart,' says Yeoman. They've hired staff, brought in mobile accommodation and many weekdays the restaurant is full. 

That good fortune is tempered by memories of Jo-Anne Mackinnon, one of two people killed that night. She was killed by a blow to the head, a newspaper reported recently.

Her partner, Gary "Tex" Morton, wasn't at Lyford recently. His workshop for manufacturing wheels and rims for vintage cars, motorbikes and planes had been shifted away. A caretaker lived in temporary accommodation.

Accommodation is available at Lyford, say Holiday Homes website owner Claudine Barnes and her husband Ross Barnes.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ

Accommodation is available at Lyford, say Holiday Homes website owner Claudine Barnes and her husband Ross Barnes.

The quake was "vicious", says Ross Barnes, the area's deputy rural fire chief.

But "people pulled together really well". Teams came together to clear roads, get water flowing again and keep people fed.

Materials flooded into the region. "It brought tears to my eyes," Ross Barnes says. "In our hour of need, New Zealanders were amazing," he says.

There are baches damaged beyond repair, he concedes, insurance claims to settle. 

But there's a silver lining in almost every cloud, says Doug Simpson.

The Simpsons had a tough few weeks reopening the ski field access road.
Mt Lyford Ski Field

The Simpsons had a tough few weeks reopening the ski field access road.

 - Stuff

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