Coromandel businesses on edge over Easter as visitor access remains limited

By Matthew Theunissen of RNZ

Coromandel businesses say they're doing 50-90 percent less business than they were last year due to the fragility of road access to the region.

State Highway 25A between Kopu and Hikuai is closed indefinitely and with limited alternative access to the peninsula businesses fear visitors won't come for the upcoming Easter holidays.

Some residents are even leaving the Coromandel altogether to move closer to hospitals and other essential services.

Cathedral Cove Water Taxi operator Hayden Smith
Cathedral Cove Water Taxi operator Hayden Smith Photo credit: RNZ/Matthew Theunissen

After huge slips crashed onto the popular walking track and parts of the beach, business ground to a standstill for Cathedral Cove Water Taxi operator Hayden Smith.

To try to keep the business afloat, he started offering trips to the cove from Hahei Beach so tourists could at least see the famous hole in the rock from the boat.

"We've had a little bit of a break in the weather which has been nice, but it's safe to say we've been kind of 80-plus percent down - maybe 90 per cent down - on last year. And last year was a shocker as well," he said.

Businesses had been counting on this summer to help them recover from Covid, he said.

"We were just so optimistic about the summer and, yeah, here we are. It's not been the redemption we were chasing. And quite frankly, it sucks."

RNZ/Matthew Theunissen
Jessy James at his Whiti farm. Photo credit: RNZ/Matthew Theunissen

Further north, the Eden-like Whiti Farm Park is having a really hard time due to the lack of tourists passing through.

Owner Jessy James said Aucklanders who usually holiday in the Coromandel didn't seem keen on the long windy coastal route along SH25 while the other roads were down.

"[In] January we were 50 per cent down - that's a huge month for us - and then last month we were three quarters down on last year too, so that's a big chunk. And we've still got the animals to feed every day, whether people come or not."

And the future's not looking great.

"It's pretty grim really because they're saying it could be another year before that road opens. And if it is another year it's going to really, really hurt," James said.

"There's a lot of businesses in Whitianga already closing down because it's too hard. [Summer] is the period to get us through the cold, long winter, which we've just lost. "

It's not only tourism businesses affected.

Donna Diedericks and her husband run the Pauanui Service Centre where people come to get warrants of fitness and car repairs.

"Our biggest challenge is absolutely our supplies. We get bookings on a daily basis so on a daily basis I'm placing orders for parts," she said.

"Usually we would see a courier every single day. Sometimes it's now just once a week and that's causing a massive bottleneck with jobs."

Diedericks said she'd even had a handful of regular customers come in to say good-bye because they were leaving the Coromandel for good.

"They've been with us from the beginning and they have decided to permanently relocate.

"Some of them are permanent [residents] - there was a lady I spoke to today who's been here 20 years and they're moving. There's those that have decided to be closer to medical facilities and make sure they have access to hospitals."

Pauanui Ratepayers and Residents Association administrator Anna van Limpt sent out a survey to members on Saturday asking them to outline how they've been impacted by the weather events and road closures.

In just a few days she'd received over 500 responses, many of them absolutely heart breaking.

 Photo: RNZ/Matthew Theunissen
Anna van Limpt from the Pauanui Ratepayers and Residents Association. Photo credit: Photo: RNZ/Matthew Theunissen

"People are really afraid they can't get to hospital if they need to. Kids have been taken out of school because the commute to school is so long, sometimes three, four hours a day, so they spend more time on the school bus than they do in school itself.

"Businesses are suffering really bad, especially after the long weekends that were rained off. We were so hoping for some visitors us to come over."

Van Limpt felt people were afraid of visiting the Coromandel at the moment.

"People are even more scared to get stuck here ... what if you get stuck and you can't get out?"

Back on Smith's water taxi, a handful of German and French tourists were enthusiastically taking selfies in front of the picturesque and deserted Cathedral Cove.

They said they were having a fantastic time in the Coromandel, despite all the challenges the peninsula was facing.

A couple on their honeymoon said the detours added just one hour to their journey, but they did not regret making the decision to stick with their plan to visit the Coromandel.


Photo: RNZ/Matthew Theunissen
Honeymooning tourists Armelle and Clement Labouche say they had a great time in the Coromandel. Photo credit: Photo: RNZ/Matthew Theunissen