SH63 goes from back road to main drag

8:32 am on 19 December 2016

Since last month's quake which blocked the main road through Kaikōura, a once quiet road in Marlborough has been turned into a main South Island highway.

Daily traffic on State Highway 63 through the Wairau Valley - between Blenheim and St Arnaud in the Nelson lakes area, has grown from fewer than 400 vehicles a day to more than 1200, according to the Tranport Agency.

The number of trucks each day has grown tenfold - to 400 - since the quake cut off the rail link through Kaikōura and cargo has to be transported by road.

To cope with the change, a freight depot has been set up in Spring Creek, near Blenheim, where trains coming off the ferry stop, goods are offloaded and put on trucks for the trip south.

Spring Creek, best described as a transport junction on the road between Blenheim and Picton. It has a superette on one corner, and a fuel station and a tavern on another.

The shifting nature of freight demands and haulage has meant a sudden change to the lives of workers such as truck loader Ray Kendall. He is among a crew who have moved to the area temporarily from Auckland.

"We've been sent to help out and I think we'll be here, back and forth, for about a year," he said.

Jason Tyrell who lost his job towing trucks on and off the ferries in Picton after the quake, is now driving freight to Christchurch. He said the trip took about seven-and-a-half hours, due to the level of traffic and roadworks along the way.

"I had to find a job before Christmas, otherwise the kids won't have any presents," he said.

Mike and Hazel Pink had just bought the Junction Hotel at Spring Creek, and despite it being damaged in the quake, including the chimney being toppled, it also brought them unintended consequences - they're now busier then they ever imagined.

"We moved in on the 15th of October. We had the ceiling come down in the restaurant, owing to a burst waste pipe upstairs and numerous other things have gone wrong but they've all been resolved and everything's hunky dory now.

"We're getting customers back and it's going extremely well," Mr Pink said.

On the scenic route that connects the triangle of Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman, gangs of road workers span its 117km, including traffic controller Gary Tutty.

"This was only a level one road, but now it's been converted to State Highway 1 so all this traffic is coming across and really it wasn't built for heavy traffic. That's why there's a lot of potholes blowing out and a lot of repairs going on. It's a work in progress," he said.

Further on, Wairau Valley Tavern owner David Jackson hoped a few more customers would stop and buy his pies. It was 2pm, and the pie warmer was still full. He said he was at the wrong end of the road and drivers were not stopping, but he was still seeing a small increase in business.

The old stagecoach tavern was built in 1880 and the 14 November quake was yet another to rattle its bones, Mr Jackson said.

"Oh we had a great ride on it - two minutes of roller coaster heaven. We've had a few of them and we're getting used to them now."

Until recently Caridad Apas was happy feeding the few passers-by from her mobile food business Wheely Wild parked beside the highway. She's now serving up to 150 cups of coffee a day, plus home-made wild venison pies, which has turned a hobby into a full-time job.

"People come in here and ask, 'do you make money'? and I say, 'of course no, but what a beautiful place to stay. I'm on holiday every day.' But now, after the earthquake - it's kicked off the business."

Last week the government committed up to $2 billion to rebuild parts of State Highway 1 and the rail corridor damaged in the earthquake.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs