Large Kaikoura tourist operators plead for government help

8:03 pm on 18 November 2016

Earthquake-hit Kaikoura tourist operators excluded from a government relief package are crying out for help.

Encounter Kaikoura owner Dennis Buurman was "buoyed" by Prime Minister John Key's visit to the town on Wednesday.

Yet when the government announced its $7 million relief package on Thursday, Mr Buurman's business was excluded.

Passengers on board Whale Watch Kaikoura's boat get to enjoy some dusky dolphin antics.

A photo posted by Dennis Buurman (@dennisbuurman) on

The eight-week subsidy package was for Kaikoura businesses with 20 or fewer employees, which would get $500 a week for full-time staff and $300 for part-time staff.

Mr Buurman employs about 50 people. They run boat tours for people to swim with dolphins and watch other wildlife.

His business of 26 years has been closed since Monday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit - lifting the seabed up to 4m in places.

"It was just a bit gut-wrenching to be honest," Mr Buurman said of the government announcement.

Whale Watch and Kaikoura ITM were in the same situation, he said.

Whale Watch could not use its marina, except at high tide, because of the seabed lifting.

"We were just into full swing," Mr Buurman said.

Struggling to fight back tears, he said, "it's kinda hard".

"The sad reality for us, is, facing our staff."

He told them this morning the prospects for work "were not looking bright".

Whale Watch Kaikoura general manager Kauahi Ngapora said the marina was the hub of the town's ocean-based tourism.

"At low to mid tide, we're pretty much nearly beached on the sea floor... we can't operate.

"It's critically important that our marina gets sorted out."

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce told Checkpoint with John Campbell the relief package was an initial package and there was "some flexibility around it".

Mr Joyce said he would travel to Kaikoura next week to meet with the larger companies, including Encounter Kaikoura.

GNS paleoecologist Kate Clark said the seafloor had lifted up to 4m at Waipapa Point.

"We should never see sub-tidal seaweed.. but it's there. It's quite startling, the amount of uplift," she said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry for Primary Industries has ramped up patrols on the coast to stop people stealing paua exposed by Monday's earthquake.

Paua brood stocks are now exposed above the high tide zone.

A spokesperson for the ministry said the surviving shellfish and rock lobster stocks in the new intertidal zone needed to be protected.

Fisheries officers were ensuring people complied with catch limits and legal size requirements, and were also warning of the dangers of taking dead or dying seafood.

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