4 Jan 2020

Flood-hit West Coast welcomes influx of visitors

10:41 am on 4 January 2020

The reopening of the only highway through Westland has come as a relief to the mayor, who says the tourists have returned.

19777153 - west coast, new zealand, 2012-11-3:   a tourist's camper van approaches rainy weather surrounding the southern alps, westland, new zealand

Tourists are worth more than $500 million to the West Coast economy annually. Photo: 123RF

The district was hammered by heavy rain early last month which caused slips, forcing the closure of State Highway 6 - the only gateway to such tourist magnets as Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

Mayor Bruce Smith said from the moment the road reopened, five days before Christmas, traffic began streaming in from places such as Canterbury and Nelson.

He said the timing of the wild weather in early December was fortunate.

"We get floods and we get roads that go out and that period just before Christmas is always a very quiet time. It's the shoulder of the season. If it had to happen [it's] as good a time as any."

He said the focus now should be on ensuring the highway was resilient for future disasters.

"There's been some concerns for really a couple of years on the resilience problem that the Coast suffers from in the fact that from Hokitika to Haast there's one highway; from Buller from Westport through to Karamea there's one highway."

State Highway 6 between Harihari and Whataroa was closed on 7 December, following landslips at Mount Hercules.

Mt Hercules slip

A slip at Mt Hercules seen from the air. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

There were fears the closure would last well into 2020, however, roading crews worked around the clock for days so that it could re-open.

Tourism is the second highest earner on the West Coast. International tourists spend about $270 million each year, while domestic tourism contributes $231m.