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Troublesome Hinekura Road formally re-opened – for now

May 7, 2024 May 2024 No Comments

Clayton Hartnell points to the next big slip on Hinekura Road.

By Ray Lilley

Hinekura Road _ a 23-kilometer stretch of mostly narrow, winding, hilly and massively poor condition access road to rural farmlands east of Martinborough _ formally reopened on April 18, with a red ribbon cut to mark the event.

Some 25 people, including the acting mayor, three councillors, Martinborough Community Board chair, roading contract workers and local residents spent a couple of hours at the event.

The group quietly noted the formal reconnection of more than 30 farming families to Martinborough by the much-patched roadway after some $800,000 was spent _ 71 percent of it from Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency.

The road slippage story so far:

First came a slip in winter 2021 which was repaired. Another slip which cut the road occurred during the Christmas 2021 stormy weather was also patched up.

“Mid-2022 saw a devastating road slip,” district councillor Aidan Ellims told the ribbon-cutting assembly. Half a million cubic meters of soil and tarsealed roadway slumped down the hillside.

It impacted all transport through the area, with the only other route out of the valleys a full hour- and-a-half of driving – both out and back in. Three hours.

“It impacted children getting to school. It impacted the community getting to Martinborough for supplies, for medical attention. It impacted almost all farm stock movement and transport and even farm home-stays,” Ellims said.

“A lot of people don’t understand the sort of impact there has been on this community,” he added.

Local resident Clayton Hartnell has some idea, having suffered through “18 to 20 months of problems,” including having to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle to navigate “the track” punched through by a local farmer to help community access to the outside. 

Hartnell’s wife needed the vehicle to travel to her teaching job in Martinborough.  Another teacher friend living on the wrong side of the giant slip, which took down nearly a kilometre of roadway, had to buy one as well. 

Before the temporary track opened, women and children from the area moved to live in rental accommodation in Martinborough for three months, so the children could attend school.

New Zealand Post cut all mail and package delivery for many months, ordering its delivery driver not to use the temporary track. 

A local woman with a four-wheel drive stepped in with a weekly “mail run” for the community.

Acting mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter acknowledged the impact of the road’s closure.

“We’re here to celebrate a long, slow and painful journey for the community. We are pleased there was a farm track (to help connect to town), and we appreciate your patience. 

“You have shown patience, goodwill, your willingness to work with us (council) even though we’ve not always seen eye-to-eye through this whole process,” she noted.  

She thanked “funding partner Waka Kotahi who funded 71 percent of the work. We really do want this road to have longevity.”

She also acknowledged the roading company, many of whose workers had put in on-going 12-hour days to speed up the job, billeting with local families throughout each week to save extensive daily travel time.  

“It has been a tough four years. It’s good we haven’t been forgotten,” a local woman told the gathering.

As she spoke the rural delivery mail van appeared on the dusty stretch of Hinekura Road near the community hall.

A light cheer rang out. “Yay, the mail is coming through,” someone said. Reconnection.

For Clayton Hartnell, as for many in the community, frustration impacted at almost every turn.

Buying a four-wheel drive for his teacher wife, heavy trucks ploughing up the temporary track,  “combination locks” on the track’s gates “so it was very difficult (travelling) at night.”

He acknowledged the council “put up a lot of money to do the track.”

It had also had a serious impact on farms. 

“It’s been a huge cost to locals. It’s cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” not to mention the $400.00 extra cost for every truck of stock in and out of the area using the longer route when Hinekura Road was either cut or impassable. Farmers were unable to recoup that cost.

Hartnell had a fresh warning about the reconstructed road.

Pointing up to a distant hill which the road snakes around, he told The Star:

“There’s a huge big crack below the forestry block that will go if we get 4 inches of rain.”  

 “It’s going to happen again _ we always get a 4-inch rain event most years,” he said.

Right now, “somebody needs to put their hand up and take the job on,” he added as a bright sun shone from a cloudless blue sky. 

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