25 Sep 2023

Severe weather leads to ferry sailing cancellations, West Coast to Otago highway set to partially reopen

9:32 pm on 25 September 2023
Crews working to remove over 20,000 cubic meters of slip material from the Muddy Creek bridge on the Haast Pass.

Crews working to remove over 20,000 cubic meters of slip material from the Muddy Creek bridge on the Haast Pass. Photo: Waka Kotahi

Waka Kotahi is optimistic that the flood-damaged highway between the South Island's West Coast and Otago will be able to partly reopen from Tuesday, but cannot say when two lanes will fully reopen.

On Monday afternoon crews were continuing their work to clear slip material from the Muddy Creek bridge on the Haast Pass.

Waka Kotahi systems manager Robert Choveaux said structural engineers had assessed the site and would do so again in the morning to ensure it was safe to carry traffic and hopefully two guided convoys of light vehicles would be allowed through.

"12pm will be the first round tomorrow, starting at the Lake Hawea side, letting that side through first and then once convoy reaches the other side they'll turn around and let the West Coast side through and then again at 4.30pm weather permitting and conditions permitting - light vehicles only at this stage."

Waka Kotahi intended continuing to offer escorted convoys, with a third one set to be added on Wednesday at 8am and these would continue until it was safe to open the road back up to two lanes again, he said.

Choveaux said the goal was to restore access to the highway to get coast to coast back open again.

"We understand that it's a critical highway for the people of the region and you know we're applying all the resources that we can at our disposal to make sure that this gets open."

It was good news that one lane was likely to be reopened on Tuesday, but it would take some time to deal with situation, he said.

Ferries cancelled

Meanwhile, forecast severe winds have led to the cancellation of Cook Strait ferry crossings on Tuesday with waves of up to 5 metres expected.

MetService has a strong wind warning in place for coastal Marlborough north of Clarence, the Marlborough Sounds and Wellington from 3am Tuesday until 4am on Wednesday with severe southerly gales forecast to gust up to 120kmh.

Interislander operations manager Duncan Roy said the Aratere was still expected to sail tomorrow, although it may run behind schedule.

The Kaiarahi's 1pm sailing from Wellington on Wednesday would be freight-only, he said.

The Kaitaki is expected to return as a full service on Wednesday sailing from Wellington at 8.30pm.

Bluebridge has cancelled a number of ferries due to the expected large swells including on Tuesday its Wellington to Picton 8.15am, 1.30pm, 8.30pm sailings and its 7.45am, 2pm and 7.15pm Picton to Wellington sailings. On Wednesday, its 2am and 8.15am Wellington to Picton sailings are cancelled, along with its 2.30am and 7.45am Picton to Wellington sailings.

Bluebridge said all customers who were affected by the cancellations would be advised by text.

It apologised and said because it was school holidays the weather had disrupted many people's travel plans.

It said while it was heavily booked, the Bluebridge teams would do their best to find alternative sailing options.

Heavy rain warnings

MetService has put a heavy rain warning in place for Bay of Plenty east of Kawerau until midnight Monday with up to 50mm more rain forecast, while west of Kawerau a heavy rain watch is in place until then.

There is also a heavy rain warning in place for Gisborne / Tai Rāwhiti with a further 70mm of rain forecast before 2am Tuesday.

Bay of Plenty Emergency Management said its infrastructure was holding strong as bursts of rain hit the region.

Group controller Cara Gordon said all the roads were still open and any flooding had been minor.

"So our river systems and our drainage systems have responded really well. There's been a bit of surface flooding and a few slips in the region but nothing of major concern. Whilst we're still watching closely and ready to respond if anything does go wrong, if things continue as they are we're feeling pretty confident about the progression."

The regional council ordered a controlled spill of the Matahina Dam earlier on Monday afternoon to make room for more water, she said.

Farmers were encouraged to move stock away from any rivers, but there was no risk to the general public, she said.

The rain would continue into the evening, but the situation was well under control, Gordon said.

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