Coromandel residents fear they are one underslip away from disaster

Janene Braithwaite and partner Steven Hall
Janene Braithwaite and partner Steven Hall Photo credit: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

By Matthew Theunissen for RNZ

Waka Kotahi is closely monitoring an underslip on State Highway 25 between Waihi and Whangamatā, which has residents concerned about losing their last practical way in or out.

One of the major routes to the southern Coromandel towns, State Highway 25A is completely out of action, while travel north is for light vehicles only due to a major slip on SH25 at Hikuai.

So the route south really is the region's lifeline.

For Janene Braithwaite, things are bad enough without the prospect of more road closures.

She runs the world-famous-in-New Zealand butchery Meat at the Beach on Whangamatā's high street.

Residents know to go there for some of the best sausages and other meats, but the dire situation with the roads has meant the business has been unable to get enough stock in.

"Even our regular customers are not coming," she said. "We used to be steady across the week and we've got days where there's hardly anyone coming in now."

She estimated business was down 30 percent since the road closures and that was just with the road closures and partial closures to the north.

Underslip on State Highway 25 earlier this month
Underslip on State Highway 25 earlier this month Photo credit: Waka Kotahi

Should something happen to the south it would spell disaster for the community and that was a real possibility, Braithwaite believed, which she flagged with Waka Kotahi.

"There's an area there that's had a bit of a slip. If that one goes, we're basically an island," she said.

"That's our only way in at the moment. And that's the only road in for Tairua and Whitianga too. So it's a big concern."

Waka Kotahi said in a statement there had been more than 200 slips in the area in January and February. It said it was aware of two underslips on the stretch of highway, and repairs on the smaller of the two were expected to be completed yesterday.

The larger slip, on the shoulder of State Highway 25 north of Waihi, had not deteriorated and there was no reason to restrict it to light vehicles or reduce it to one lane.

"There are still approximately 30 active overslips and 20 active underslips requiring permanent solutions," the statement said.

"We understand how stressful the impact of recent weather events is for locals and businesses in the Coromandel. Waka Kotahi contractors are working tirelessly to ensure roads are safe to remain open. Helping communities stay connected is an absolute priority for Waka Kotahi."

But Braithwaite was not reassured.

"It's not just me," she said. "All of the town is concerned that it's going to end up [like the road at Hikuai] because it goes under the road exactly like 25A did. It's just going to go, it's just gonna slip away."

Whangamatā Ratepayers and Residents Association member Graeme Manson echoed Braithwaite's concerns.

"It's just getting hammered and at the best of times," he said. "It's just not being maintained. You only have to drive it and see it to see ... potential weak spots and one day - whether it be heavy traffic or just normal traffic - it's going to."

The roading situation was affecting businesses across the spectrum, he said.

"Be it building materials or food and beverage or whatever," he said. "You see it every day at the supermarket - they don't know how much they're going to get in terms of supplies."

Braithwaite said the situation had residents stressed out every time it rained.