17 Jun 2017

Closed-down roadside cafe gets second chance

3:28 pm on 17 June 2017

Until last November Caridad Apas was happy feeding the few passers-by from her mobile cafe set up beside State Highway 63 in Marlborough's Wairau Valley.

Then the earthquake hit, which diverted hundreds more cars and trucks past her place daily.

Caridad Apas plans to re-open her popular roadside cafe later this year.

Caridad Apas was forced to close her popular roadside cafe along the South Island's alternate highway after a complaint to the council. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The road has become the main highway after the Kaikōura quake closed the SH1 coastal route.

Wheely Wild Food which has been situated between Blenheim and St Arnaud for a couple of years, was suddenly serving up to 150 cups of coffee a day, plus home-made wild venison pies, bacon and egg butties and real fruit ice cream.

It turned what was essentially a hobby into a full-time job.

"People come in here and ask, 'do you make money'? and I say, 'of course no, but what a beautiful place to stay. I'm on holiday every day.' But now, after the earthquake - it's kicked off the business," Ms Apas said.

Wairau Valley sign

The cafe had been operating beside SH63 in Wairau Valley which became the main highway after the Kaikōura quake closed the SH1 coastal route. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

In April, just when Ms Apas thought she was making it over the line financially, Marlborough District Council served an abatement notice following a complaint.

She said it coincided with questions from a customer - a roading contractor - who'd appeared unhappy about her road signage.

A council spokesperson said the business had a licence to sell food, but resource consent was required for the roadside location, and the operator had to apply for one.

Ms Apas said she had no choice but to close the business.

"I have had zero income since I closed after the abatement notice. I was told that if I operated I would be served an infringement notice of $750 a day, if I got caught."

Ms Apas recently told RNZ the earthquake had "kicked off the business".

Ms Apas recently told RNZ the earthquake had "kicked off the business". Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The council said consent was granted on 9 June, subject to conditions required by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), including the closure of one vehicle access way onto the state highway. An upgrade of the other access to the lay-by is also required.

Ms Apas said an early estimate put the cost at $15,000 but it was likely to cost more and she planned to borrow the funds in order to re-start the business.

Caridad Apas was forced to close her popular roadside cafe along the South Island's alternate highway after a complaint to the council.

Caridad Apas plans to re-open her popular roadside cafe later this year. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

NZTA said it valued the service she provided on a remote part of the highway, and planned to pay two-thirds of the cost for the work needed to improve access to the site.

The agency's highways manager, Frank Porter, said they had offered an amount according to the estimate supplied by Ms Apas.

"Given the nature of the business and its value in providing a service to contractors working on the road, and the fact that it provides driver refreshment in a remote part of the highway network which is currently under pressure, NZTA has offered to meet two thirds of the $15,000 cost," Mr Porter said.

Ms Apas said she was delighted that the transport agency has offered to help foot the bill.

She said she hoped to be up and running again by spring, or as soon as she could find a roading contractor who was free to do the work.

Gangs of road workers span the highway's length along the scenic route that connects the triangle of Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman.

The government is spending around $60 million to upgrade and maintain it, while work continues to get the access re-opened through Kaikōura.

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