By Jack Biddle
In March 1967, the Kopu Hikuai road or State Highway 25A as it is officially known, was declared open to the public. Its construction was a mammoth task which took around nine years to complete with workers facing virgin soil, tricky access, steep slopes, dense bush, heavy rainfall and ongoing mudslides. It was at the time, a huge test for the engineers, road workers, and machinery and once completed, would allow towns such as Whangamata, Pauanui, Tairua, Whitianga and Matarangi especially to grow and prosper.
The grand opening and cutting of the ribbon reportedly took place in appalling conditions forcing a brief road closure which was a trend that locals and visitors would come to accept and tolerate for almost another 56 years. But recent unique severe weather storms and patterns which have gripped many regions of the North Island have seen parts of the Kopu-Hikuai road unable to stand this latest fierce onslaught of nature. It has been left broken, un-driveable and officially closed and with no time frame able to be given on when or even if, it will reopen.
Locals and holidaymakers have long lived with weather related issues with the main arterial routes around the entire Coromandel region. Closures due to slips have often been a reasonably brief inconvenience however and where roads have been underwater and deemed unsafe, it’s often been a matter of simply waiting for a low tide to enable them to be reopened.
But not this time and the Coromandel region is not alone with many other communities around New Zealand sharing similar pain and damage caused by ongoing torrential rain and these unpredictable and freak weather bombs. We are at the mercy of the weather gods currently and in a nutshell, there are no quick fixes. However, there may be opportunities to take our plight to higher authorities.
Simply reinstating the past is potentially a stop gap measure. Is now the time to aim high and strive for much needed change?
Recently elected Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) Mayor Len Salt told the Informer on Sunday he has been in discussions with the Minister of Emergency Management, Kieran McAnulty and has received positive feedback. “The Minister has asked for a priority list and specific details on what the immediate needs of our community are. I see this as a positive step forward in not only helping to reinstate our essential services but also hopefully taking the opportunity to improve on them for the long term. For example, it’s no secret that specialised medical treatment for those living on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula often means an unwelcomed drive over the Kopu-Hikuai Road. With the road closed indefinitely, alternative routes will take longer and in some cases are less safe to drive, so hopefully we can pitch the need for greater specialised and emergency medical care closer to home long term. Westpac Rescue Helicopter Services are predicted to be more frequent. It’s early days and the queues are long, but it’s a foot in the door and one we need to ensure remains firmly open”. Meanwhile, road crews around the Coromandel region are desperately seeking a break in the weather.
Improvement of roads and bridges on Coromandel Peninsula
Contribution from Murray McLean
Thames Coromandel has no jurisdiction at all in the management, maintenance and development of roads on the Coromandel Peninsula. The distinction is that Waka Kotahi (formerly NZRA) is in charge of the roads. TCDC has nothing to do with one way bridges.
NZTA used to subsidise council (TCDC) 51% for the cost of their maintenance. This was not so long ago - the last long term development plan. For this current plan, the subsidy is two thirds of what it was before. Some years ago there was an approach by TCDC to NZTA for council to contribute to the cost of the one lane bridges and for this contribution to come off their cost benefit ratio. The offer was rejected at the time by the management of NZTA.
Caption: From early cracks to total washout; there is no quick fix for the Kopu-Hikuai Road.