14 Nov 2017

One Year Done: The tragedy that brought a community together

Locals call the Kaikoura earthquake anniversary, one year done. Sign in a retail shop on the main road, West End, Kaikoura.
11:26 am on 14 November 2017

Normally, an anniversary would evoke a joyous event in one's life, something worth celebrating, but this day marks 'one year done' to those most affected in the tourism mecca.

Heading down the coast the power of the quake became obvious, with railway tracks ripped from their beds, chunks of land torn apart, State Highway 1 destroyed by massive amounts of hillside dumped on it. A bird's eye view would usually dwarf the size of what lies below, but not this day, 14 November, 2017.

Returning one year on was, for me, like returning home. We went for the usual stop-off to catch up with Sharon and her team from the coffee cart for a dose of caffeine and to my surprise and delight Sharon recognised me from all those months ago. Twice-daily visits were not uncommon in the weeks that I was there post-quake. 

People ask me how bad the township was hit, because to a visitor you might think it appears pretty intact. Behind the still-standing facades though, business owners have vivid memories and mixed feelings about the past 12 months. 

Some industries were hit hard and not able to carry on, some stores have been pulled down, others only just got through the winter. 

For some, they saw their best winter yet; hospitality has been booming. With hundreds of out-of-towners now residing in the seaside town working on the infrastructure, the fish and chip shops, cafes, pubs and of course the coffee cart have not only survived, but actually thrived.

Sharon Rayner, owner/operator of The Cafe Cart in Kaikoura. Sharon and her team were a hub for residents, tourists and recovery crew during the aftermath of the quake. Pictured with staff member, JP (John--Paul Roberts).

Sharon Rayner, owner/operator of The Cafe Cart in Kaikoura. Sharon and her team were a hub for residents, tourists and recovery crew during the aftermath of the quake. Pictured with staff member, JP (John--Paul Roberts). Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

With the dredging of the harbour complete and opening today, the boats will be back out and running their usual service. State Highway 1 north is due to re-open on 15 December. 

The town could almost be back to normal, or at least the 'the new normal'.

However, last week we drove the inland route, as State Highway 1 south was closed. So the people of Kaikōura are not convinced they'll see a flood of incoming traffic from the north. 

If NCITR manages it, and the hordes of tourists make the trip, there are major concerns for housing with some local people having to leave their homes to make way for high-paying renters working on the roads. There is now a housing crisis.

Virtually all the motels around town read 'no vacancy'. Work vehicles and work boots are parked outside every room. Some locals ask us the question: 'Where are [the tourists] all going to stay, where are the staff that are needed to work in our businesses going to live?'

Despite those concerns the people are - as ever - unfailingly positive. 

Some now even say the quake, though tragic, has been good for them personally. They know their neighbours better, they get out and about more, they have new goals and have experienced personal growth. 

Generally, spirits are high, they feel they are closer as a community and they share a common interest in getting Kaikōura back up and running. 

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