‘Complete closure’ for some Northland businesses during State Highway 1 Brynderwyn Hill repairs

Northland businesses are facing more than two months of disruption from Monday as repair work is carried out on a crucial link damaged during Cyclone Gabrielle last year.

Everyone Checkpoint spoke with agrees the work on the slip-prone section of State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns is necessary. But they are still bracing for a hit from motorists staying away or not stopping on their longer, more stressful journeys.

In Matt Lang’s case, temporary closure is the only option. He operates from a windy spot high up the Brynderwyns, but the view from his workplace out to the ocean and towards the Whangārei heads cannot be beaten.

However, for about 10 weeks from Monday 12 May, as about 10 kilometres of the highway is fixed, Lang will have to close his Altura Coffee Company cart, apart from a week over Easter when the work pauses.

“It’s going to take a direct impact to me. I’m going to be shut the whole time, basically,” he said.

Matt Lang has to close his coffee business during the roadwork.

Matt Lang has to close his coffee business during the roadwork.
Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

“Due to licensing issues I’m not able to go to another location, so it’s going to mean a complete closure of my business for the whole entire repairs.”

Lang has no choice other than taking the hit.

“It’s going to definitely place a strain on my costings for the year. I’ll just have to work through it. Hopefully there’s some support out in the community that will help us.”

He’s had the business for five years – through Covid and last year’s cyclone, which forced the Brynderwyns road to close for 58 days.

Lang said he had received great support from customers at his spot near a popular lookout, and he hoped other affected businesses would get that too.

“I’m just hoping that the shutdown doesn’t affect too many of the local businesses. The hills provide the [entrance] into the communities and provide a lot of customers for the local businesses, so I’m hoping it doesn’t affect them too much.”

Longer alternative routes take heavy traffic over towards Dargaville, but other motorists will head east, and along the way skirt through Waipu, although they would not enter the town centre.

State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns will close until 12 May for repairs.

State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns will close until 12 May for repairs.
Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

At the Waipu Scottish Migration Museum and gift shop, Kath Barber and Lorraine Lloyd were preparing for a quiet period.

“We know that it has to be done because we do want good, permanent access through the Brynderwyns, but it’s definitely going to affect our business here,” Barber said.

“It will bring a lot of people through, but not necessarily in, town,” Lloyd said. “It makes us like a big intersection because they come off the highway and then come into town, then straight out.”

Straight out without spending – although the museum and shop had a busy summer, and will use the expected quiet time to do maintenance work.

Waipu ticked along nicely just off the main highway, but increased traffic had its downsides.

Barber said she would find it hard to get out of her driveway on the soon-to-be-busy alternative route, while Lloyd said extra travel time meant her weekly girls’ catch-up in Kaiwaka would be put into hibernation.

“That won’t happen because it will add an hour and a half to my travel round trip – without getting stuck behind something,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll try hard to go somewhere for coffee.”

Reina Reilly says she's dreading the closure.

Reina Reilly says she’s dreading the closure.
Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

At Industry Vintage antique and collectibles, Reina Reilly, one of the owners, hoped for better trading this year than during last year’s closure.

“The work needs to be done. It’s very important to keep the arterial route open, but for businesses like us it’s going to be tough.

“Last year February was practically a zero month [during the closure] – a non-break-even month for us. We are dreading the time to come.”

Missing some of the busy summer period had long-lasting effects too.

“Usually the winter months are the quiet months. This is the time when we make the hay and that will last us through the winter season.”

Like many others, shop worker Lucy Bowey also doubted the traffic passing nearby would stop.

“It’s quite hard on the town too, because crossing the road, just having your normal life, is quite problematic.

“People don’t drive as though they’re driving in your little town, they drive as though they want to get somewhere.”

Down the road on the alternative main route, Little Red Coffee owner Jacqui Mewett was expecting an uptick in trade as more people stopped for refreshments.

“I’m looking forward to it. We should be nice and busy. We’ve got State Highway 1 coming through. We’re in a really good spot in the town and I think the trade should be good.”

Mewett’s only worry was people might have travelled already so they could avoid the Brynderwyns closure, although last year there were still plenty of motorists when the road shut.

“The closures were totally sweet. We had nice busy days.”

Kristale Faber worries fewer motorists will shop at the Kaiwaka Cheese Shop.

Kristale Faber worries fewer motorists will shop at the Kaiwaka Cheese Shop.
Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

On the other side of the hills, Kaiwaka Cheese Shop assistant director Kristale Faber also worried that in heavy traffic drivers would ignore the “last cheese for miles” sign outside and keep going when faced with a longer trip.

“Usually when the traffic is very slow people don’t come in any more. They just want to keep going to the next destination. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

At least people would still go through the town, unlike last year when the main route missed Kaiwaka, she said.

“Last time… we missed a lot of customers because of that. Hopefully this time it will be a wee bit better, but it does affect us.”

The extra kilometres delivery drivers had to travel over alternative routes meant increased costs too, she said.

The work was originally going to start on 7 February, but was delayed after an outcry from businesses.

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