16 Nov 2023

Worst year in more than 20 - Coromandel business owner

From Checkpoint, 5:51 pm on 16 November 2023

The worst year for business in over 20 years - that is how one business owner has described the last 10 months living without the Coromandel Peninsula's vital link, State Highway 25A. 

The route between Kopu and Hikuai will reopen by 20 December with a 124m bridge spanning the abyss that severed the highway in late January. 

It was three months ahead of schedule, giving some businesses a lifeline before Christmas, but for others it came too late.  

Businesses have been bearing the brunt of the closure, with visitor numbers dwindling due to lengthy drive times.   

Richardsons Real Estate sold houses all over Coromandel Peninsula. Owner Andrew Gibson said demand had dried up since January.  

"I've been selling here for 23 years and I haven't seen a year like we've just had, in terms of lack of demand and the low level of sales."

In Tairua their main buyers were based in Auckland, but with SH25A closed, their drive time had doubled - a trip that normally takes about two hours is now up to four with traffic.  

A before (above) and after composite picture of the damaged 124m bridge on State Highway 25a which had to be rebuilt.

A before (above) and after composite picture of the damaged 124m bridge on State Highway 25a which had to be rebuilt. Photo: Waka Kotahi

Gibson said there had been 25 sales in Tairua this year; the same time last year there were 53, in 2021 there were 81.

He said between major weather events, Covid-19 and then the closure of SH25A, many businesses were hoping for a normal summer at last. But it was too late for some.  

"We have a couple of empty shops in Tairua and we haven't had any empty shops in well over a decade. We've got quite a large elderly population and as they need medical appointments you can't get here they have to travel, so it's a huge day for them, it's right through everyone's lives."

Two-hour school commutes

Tairua Butchery owner Brett Collins was forced to consider renting in Ngatea so his son could get to school at Hauraki Plains College. What was usually a 50-minute trip to school had become a commute of more than four hours a day with SH25A out of action.   

Collins said after trialling home schooling, they eventually went with a "boarding" option.   

"There was a family over in Ngatea who was sympathetic to our needs, so they took him on for four nights a week."

Collins had to let go of a staff member and reduce hours at the butchery due to a downturn in weekend trade.   

Hope in holidays

In Whangamata, local business association chairperson Patrick Keer said business was far from booming.   

"The business community has suffered 20-plus percent drop in revenue, there's a lot of uncertainty."

Keer said they had been trying to boost tourism in the town, running events with the help of some funding from the Thames Coromandel District Council. But what they were really desperate for was the return of holiday home owners coming back to their baches.  

"This is how these communities survive, they really go over the three or four months over summer and then batten down the hatches for the rest of the year."

With summer fast approaching, these seasonal businesses were hoping it would be the kiss of life they had been waiting for.