14 Dec 2017

Kaikōura countdown: locals hope quiet days done

5:43 am on 14 December 2017

In the middle of a week day the main road through Cheviot - State Highway 1 - is dead quiet.

Cheviot's quiet main road.

Cheviot's quiet main road has become normal for the town. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

That's become normal for the North Canterbury town, between Christchurch and Kaikōura. Last November's quake cut the route north to Picton and tourists and travellers have bypassed the area.

More than a year after the magnitude-7.8 quake, SH1 north of Kaikōura will re-open to the public on Saturday.

It's good news for the Cheviot Tea Rooms, which is one of the businesses along the coastal highway that has suffered from the lack of customers.

Co-owner Lyn Turner said on a quiet day this year there had been half the usual pre-quake business - not enough to make a profit.

She had had to make the heart wrenching decision to cut staff hours.

"It probably has been the most difficult year of our lives in business."

Cheviot Tea Rooms co-owner Lyn Turner.

Cheviot Tea Rooms co-owner Lyn Turner. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

The road south of Kaikōura was reopened in December last year, but the route further north, between Kaikōura and Clarence, proved to be a more challenging repair job, with 10 major slips needing to be cleared. Even when the road to the north re-opens, repair work will continue into next year.

Mrs Turner was hoping for a busy summer season, but said she wasn't sure what to expect or whether through traffic would return to normal levels.

In Kaikōura, 70km north along SH1, craft beer company Emporium Brewery opened in the seaside town only a few weeks before the quake hit.

Co-owner Laura Finney said the lack of business had been a big blow, and if she and her husband had known how difficult this year was going to be, they might have taken a different approach.

"Looking back now we almost think we should have just ... not given up on it [the business] but given up on it for a year perhaps ... gone down to Christchurch, earned some money doing some other jobs for a year.

"But it's too late to do that now," she said.

Emporium Brewery co-owner Laura Finney.

Emporium Brewery co-owner Laura Finney. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

Richard King owns a 3500-hectare sheep, beef and deer farm in Clarence, which is on the northern end of the road closure.

He said farmers in his area had found the road closure incredibly frustrating, as it was an important route for moving stock around the South Island.

"We did send deer down to Timaru in January that were supposed to go in November, and it took five days for them to get there," he said.

"The whole [earthquake] thing has cost us mega dollars really, and we are just about over it."

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The road to Kaikōura remains closed, for now Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

Mr King said it used to be a quick 30 minute trip from his home to Kaikōura for the groceries. Now he has to drive two hours to Blenheim.

He hadn't visited Kaikōura since being cut off from it but said he would be hitting the re-opened road as soon as possible.

"It will take the pressure off a bit, make life a bit easier," he said.

SH1 north of Kaikōura will re-open tomorrow afternoon. It will usable only during daylight hours, while repair work is still being done.

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