The Kaikōura earthquake struck at two minutes past midnight on November 14, 2016. The damage was immense but there was no loss of life, because this region – apart from Kaikōura itself – is very sparsely populated. However, New Zealand’s transport infrastructure was thrown into chaos with both the railway line and SH1 damaged to such an extent that wise people scratched their heads and wondered if we needed to look at alternative routes or methods of transport – alternatives such as coastal shipping.

The first priority was to see if there was any way that road traffic, at least, could flow again via ‘the inland route’ – Lewis Pass, Springs Junction, the Shenandoah, through Murchison, turning off at Kawatiri, through St Arnaud and down the Wairau Valley.

Apart from the greatly increased distance, this route – while extraordinarily scenic passing through the heart of the Southern Alps – is narrow, narrower again in places, twisting, tortuous and much more suitable for a leisurely drive than for fast trips to catch ferries or deliver perishable goods.

But where there is a will there is a way, and for the best part of the next two years this route played a vital role in keeping the entire South Island operating.

Much of the Lewis Pass and Shenandoah highways are like this – through heavy native forest

It wasn’t easy.

Traffic volumes went through the roof. The road hadn’t been built for 50 tonne juggernauts rumbling over it day and night, and an army of roadworkers was kept busy patching broken tarseal, easing corners and widening bridges.

Life changed dramatically for the people living in the small towns and villages along the way. Some never understood that trucks were that big, nor that there were so many people living on the planet.


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