Funding announced to restore Kaikōura's coastal routes

6:34 pm on 15 December 2016

Cabinet has confirmed funding to rebuild Kaikōura Coastal transport routes, after they were badly damaged in last month's earthquake.

Coastal Road to Kaikoura - rail road cuts through state highway 1

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Kaikōura remains cut off after the 14 November 7.8 magnitude earthquake, though the inland route 70 may re-open in a matter of days and State Highway 1 to Christchurch is expected to re-open by Christmas.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges today announced State Highway One and the railway along the coast to the north and south of the town will be rebuilt with improvements to boost safety and resilience.

The government will provide additional funding to speed up the process, he said.

Mr Bridges said exact costs were still being worked out but estimates are between $1.4 and $2 billion.

"The precise work required to repair the route is still under investigation and it will be a very complex job. However, the government is confident that limited access via the coastal route can be restored in about 12 months," Mr Bridges said.

"Agreeing to restore the coastal route demonstrates our ongoing commitment to getting this region back on its feet as quickly as possible," he said.

An Order in Council was currently being prepared that would accelerate the reinstatement of State Highway One north and south of Kaikōura.

Work will also begin on repairing the coastal rail link.

KiwiRail said it would start work immediately on restoring the freight service from Picton to Christchurch as soon as possible.

Chief executive Peter Reidy said KiwiRail would look at making temporary repairs so freight could be moved by rail before the permanent road and rail links are completed.

Local businesses have welcomed news that the government will rebuild the coastal route.

Vanessa Chambers, the co-owner of Seal Swim, said she was ecstatic about today's news.

"It's just fantastic news, really. To be honest a lot of us haven't been thinking that far forward because it's very much still a day-to-day getting by thing here at the moment. But it's absolutely fantastic news, there is no way we could have made it work without that infrastructure there."

Whale Watch Kaikōura said it was also pleased to hear that emergency work to deepen the town's harbour channel could begin soon.

General manager Kauahi Ngapora said boats could only operate at high tide at the moment.

"So you're very, very limited. So we're quite pleased with the announcement in regards to the funding, it allows ECan to start emergency work on deepening the marina and channel. That's really good news."

English makes first visit to Kaikōura

Meanwhile new Prime Minister Bill English is making his first official visit to quake-damaged Kaikōura.

Mr English was accompanied by Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, in a helicopter trip across Cook Strait this morning.

Flying close to the coastline, Mr English was able to get a good look at the rockfalls and slips that have closed State Highway 1.

"God," he exclaimed, as the chopper looped around one of the largest slips, with the door open.

Spotting cars on a road below, he said "Gerry, how are these locals travelling?"

He wanted to know how equipment would be brought in to clear roads, and how heavy rain might affect the safety of those clearing the roads.

"That's pretty amazing progress … in about eight days," Mr Brownlee told him.

The pair also joked about the last prime minister - Mr Brownlee said John Key was good at spotting Maui's dolphin.

"He was a much smarter guy than me, hey, I don't know why we didn't make him director of recovery?" Mr English said.

They spotted a pod of dolphins underneath. "This is pretty expensive whale-watching kit , Gerry," Mr English said of the helicopter.

- RNZ / Andrea Vance

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