Just over two years ago, on November 14, 2016, Kaikōura experienced a 7.8 (Mw) earthquake. The land rocked and rolled and creaked and groaned and the seabed was uplifted 1–5 metres along the Kaikōura coastline. The earthquake had a significant impact on the community its landscape and the local economy. The devastating quake forced the closure of the South Island’s main freight rail and road connections (State Highway 1), as well as the South Bay Marina where the town’s major employers, tourism operators Whale Watch Kaikōura and Dolphin Encounter Kaikōura, had no choice but to cease operations at the height of the visitor season.

The initial prognosis for the town and its role as a popular visitor destination was grim. No roads in/out, no rail, no marina, literally no access except by air. With 85 per cent of the workforce in Kaikōura either directly or indirectly employed in the tourism industry, this is the community’s economic lifeblood. No marina meant no tourism vessels operating. No road or rail access for travelling to Kaikōura meant no visitors. It was stalemate. Visitor spend and visitor arrivals were down over 50 per cent and there were many unknowns as to when this trend would begin to shift upwards. From January 2017, limited access from south was possible via the Inland Road (Route 70).

Fast forward one year to November 14, 2017. The community, central government, NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery and Kaikōura District Council, opened the new marina, and Whale Watch Kaikōura and Dolphin Encounter tourism vessels re-commenced full operating services. Visitors began to return via SH1 south (when it was intermittently open). SH1 north remained closed. Kaikōura was open, but the light bulb was still on dimmer mode.

Fast forward another one-month and one-day to December 15, 2017 when SH1 road north of Kaikōura to Blenheim reopened. The light switch was flipped to ‘on’ and visitors flooded back. A day for great celebration!

Two years on from the earthquake, Kaikōura’s recovery journey is looking good. There’s an air of optimism that the government’s $1.5billion investment to get SH1 back in action, build a new marina, and provide support with infrastructure development and other business areas, has resulted in a faster-than-expected return of visitors and a positive injection back into the local economy. At year-end September 2018, the visitor spend of $102 million is now only 16 per cent behind the pre-quake visitor spend of $121 million. This recovery has uplifted spirits in the community and locals are able to look forward to a future with renewed confidence.

Ōhau Point Seal Colony Reopens

The public have spoken. The Ōhau Point seal-viewing area is a hit. The newly opened safe stopping area has quickly become the most popular photography and seal-viewing stop along SH1 between Blenheim and Kaikōura. Hundreds of travellers are stopping every day to take advantage of the amenity area with a perfect view of Kaikōura’s world famous fur seal colony. Ōhau Point is the first in a series of new safe stopping areas to be completed along SH1, says Colin Knaggs, Owner Interface Manager for the NZTA, who was heartened to see the public embrace the new facility. “This is part of a $200 million package of works designed to improve safety, resilience, access and journey reliability between Clarence and Oaro, a 60km stretch of the Kaikōura coast. The Ōhau Point safe stopping area, with space for 20 cars, provides the local community and visitors with a safe place to stop and take a break while viewing the outstanding coastline and the famous home of Ōhau’s protected fur seals.”

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