Meet the crew clearing the road to Kaikōura

From Christchurch Dilemmas, 6:00 am on 10 July 2017

Massive slips, triggered by last November’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, displaced more than 700,000 cubic metres of rock, soil and shingle - much of it onto State Highway 1. 

Repairing the quake-damaged highway and rail line along the Kaikōura coast is the “biggest job in New Zealand” according to site supervisor Peter ‘Thommo’ Thompson, one of 1000 men and women on the job.

Bridges are being built, debris cleared and whole sections of SH1 and the rail line realigned. The work is constant, on occasion through the night, and though the sea views are magnificent, the winter environment is inhospitable.

Thommo told his workers upfront: “It’ll be the hardest job of their life.”

Hammerhand Edan Wood is working 12-hour shifts. Skilled labourer Josh Kriel said he works in the shade most of the day. The workers, both in their teens, say it’s “good money.”

Cathy Hunt agrees. She’s come from Waikato to drive a dump truck, hauling debris from the site where it fell, to another spot just down the road. (Thompson estimates half of fallen material is being re-utilised in the project).

Hunt has been driving trucks for 30 years, but this is the first earthquake project she’s worked on and is enjoying the challenge. “It’s beautiful some days, when you are waiting to be loaded, just to sit and watch the waves.” 

In May, North Canterbury Transport & Infrastructure Recovery estimated the cost of the works at between $1 billion and $1.33 billion.

While the earthquake heaped economic stress on the tourist town, a silver lining has emerged with many local contractors and residents taken on to help with the road and rail repairs.

Shelly Riddell is one of them. Before the earthquake she sold crayfish at the popular Nin’s Bin caravan, at Rakautara, north of Kaikōura. Now, she works the checkpoint right opposite her quake-damaged home, noting down the number plates of vehicles entering and leaving the red zone, in case there’s another shake.

Project overseers remain confident the road and rail will be open for Christmas traffic, and say the work is on schedule.

Right now,  the end of the road is at slip 6, Ohau Point, just above the seal colony. Once that slip is cleared, roading crews will move in to resurrect the main highway. From the southern end, the debris pile at Ohau looks to be diminishing, the end in sight.

But then the drone footage reveals what’s waiting on the other side.

- Christchurch Dilemmas