State Highway 25 in Coromandel partially reopens to light vehicles after latest slip

A washout closed State Highway 25 between Hikuai and Whangamatā on 6 March 2023.

State Highway 25 between Hikuai and Whangamatā was closed by a washout on Monday.
Photo: Supplied / Thames-Coromandel District Council

State Highway 25 between Hikuai and Whangamatā was closed after a washout on Sunday, but it one lane has now reopened to light vehicles only.

State Highway 25 in Coromandel has now partially reopened to light vehicles after a section of the highway slipped away between Hikuai and Whangamatā on Sunday night.

Waka Kotahi national emergency response spokesperson Mark Owen said they had created a track around the collapse for light vehicles only.

There had been an underslip between Hikuai and Whangamatā and geotechnical staff assessed that today, he said.

“We are creating a track around the underslip which is available for light vehicles only at this stage until such time as we can sort of stabilise that area and work out how we can put in a permanent lane for all traffic.”

A light vehicle was classified as anything under 3.5 tonnes, with vehicles weighing more than that deemed as heavy commercial vehicles, he said.

It was only open to light vehicles for safety reasons at this stage, Owen said.

“Weight is the big issue, we don’t want to put any excessive weight on an area that’s already unstable … they’ve created a bit of extra width in there to get light vehicles through.”

Getting freight into the area was critical and work would be done to open the road to larger vehicles as soon as was possible, he said.

“At this stage it’s difficult to put a timeline on it, obviously we’ve had a lot of rain up in that area and the land is very saturated and as it dries out and the land relaxes, we do have these issues developing, so it is sort of changing on a daily basis.”

Underslips, where a piece of road falls below the road, were very challenging to fix, he said.

Overslips can generally be cleared more quickly because the material above it is usually stable, but with underslips it was necessary to work out how to build the road back up or how to create an alternative route around the slip, he said.

There was an ongoing risk that things would continue to move as the land dried out which could lead to further slips, he said.

The latest slip was yet another blow to the district that relies heavily on visitors and supplies being delivered by road and where lots children commute to school.

SH25A had completely washed away in the January floods and could take more than a year to fix.

Owen said Waka Kotahi realised how crucial SH25 was as a route into Coromandel Peninsula given that its other route in and out, SH25A was closed.

“Our crews will be going out to look at what the permanent fix will be to make this road more resilient, really, really important access to those communities.”

SH25A was a key access route for the Coromandel Peninsula, he said.

“So our crews will be looking at what we can do to put in a permanent solution whether that be on the existing alignment or possibly creating a new alignment.”

The huge drop out on State Highway 25A from Kopu to Hikuai.

The huge drop out on State Highway 25A from Kopu to Hikuai.
Photo: Thames-Coromandel District Council

‘It puts a lot of pressure on getting supplies and services around the rest of the district’

Thames Coromandel Mayor Len Salt said the latest washout forcing a section of SH25 down to one lane was bringing more anxiety to the region.

“We’re pretty resilient, our roading crews are really good at getting things back on track, but we are very vulnerable to weather at the moment,” Salt told Checkpoint.

“What we’re sensing now amongst the people in our district is a very much heightened level of anxiety about the weather.”

“When we had SH25A … it gave us an alternative, now that alternative has really got to be taken off the table for nine months to a year… then it leaves the rest of the roading network in such a vulnerable state that we’d be pretending to say that we weren’t anxious about it.

“What we would like to get some certainty on, and we continue to ask this question, is the rest of the roading network. We have to have some certainty for our business people, for our communities, for our social and economic wellbeing.”

The only other way to access the Coromandel Peninsula currently was through Kopu, Thames, around the Thames Coast Road, around the top through Coromandel and then down through Whitianga which was a much longer route, he said.

Having that as the only other route put enormous pressure on business, hospitality and tourism staff, he said.

“There’s no doubt it puts a lot of pressure on getting supplies and services around the rest of the district.”

A Countdown spokesperson said the supermarket chain could send its trucks that way to access its Whitianga store, but ongoing road closures were having an impact on online deliveries.

Countdown was working with affected customers to find alternative solutions.

Salt said he was keen to see a ferry network going. And he had had offers. One was from the Hauraki Māori Trust Board.

“They run mussel barges. So we’ve had a conversation started with them… they’ve opened the door and said maybe we can help with that.”

‘This was meant to be the comeback summer’ – cafe owner

In Tairua, Heman Ahlowalia’s cafe The Pepe had already struggled through the summer.

Sunday night’s washout was yet another blow to business.

“It’s just another curveball that’s come our way now,” Ahlowalia said.

“This is the fourth one in a row. We’ve had three bad summers because of Covid, and disruptions year-round due to Covid for the past three years.

“This was meant to be the comeback summer.”

Ahlowalia said several businesses in the town were already talking about closing.

While he acknowledged the work of road crews planning a fix for the state highways, he said the damage to the Whangamatā-Hikuai road (State Highway 25) highlighted the need for urgency on the Kopu-Hikuai road (State Highway 25A).

“All the focus and energy should be in getting that 25A fixed as soon as possible.”

The Tairua Bus Company transported 29 students to schools in the Coromandel and further afield every day.

Owner Steve Mosen said this morning that although the school bus made it through Whangamatā and students from Tairua arrived at Hauraki Plains College in Ngatea, they would have to take the long way back through Coromandel Town and Whitianga.

The school bus service could be suspended altogether from tomorrow, he said.

Like Ahlowahlia, he said finding a solution for State Highway 25A needed to be a priority.

“They can bring in Japanese or European engineers. These things don’t happen in the Alps where they’ve made better use of tunnelling and bridges.

“In our country, we just don’t seem willing to spend the money on the infrastructure.”

Without immediate support, many businesses would go under, he said.

Although the government had announced a $25 million support package for businesses affected by the January flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle, Mosen said the distribution of these funds had been too slow.

“For businesses, it’s financial support to pay their staff, because if we lose our staff now, when things do get sorted, we’ll be in an even worse situation.

“Those grants that they’re talking about, they need to be distributed as soon as possible, otherwise they’re going to be faced with multiple foreclosures and layoffs.”

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said MBIE was currently finalising support package agreements with its regional delivery partners: NorthlandInc, Auckland Business Chamber, Thames-Coromandel District Council, Toi Economic Development Agency (Bay of Plenty), Trust Tairāwhiti, Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce, and Tararua District Council.

Each delivery partner would be paid their entire funding allocation upfront, and could allocate and distribute grants themselves.

“MBIE are conscious that local business leaders are in the best position to know the needs of their regions,” the spokesperson said.

“This is why we looked to regional partners to deliver the funding directly to those with the greatest need.”

Thames-Coromandel businesses were able to apply for grants as of Monday evening. The council would administer $1.42m of the $25m package.

At Whangamatā Area School, principal Alistair Luke said about 90 students were unable to make it in on Monday morning due to the washout.

He said because the bus could not leave from Tairua, it also could not pick students up from other areas including Opoutere and Onemana. Instead, some of the school’s grounds staff had picked up students from these areas in school vans.

“Obviously, we’re hoping for the best, that that key access road will be open again as soon as possible, because for folks in Tairua and Pauanui, with the Kopu-Hikuai road already closed, the last thing they need is their other access road to be compromised as well,” Luke said.

However, he was planning for the road to recovery to be a long haul, and was looking to establish a satellite classroom at Tairua Primary School to keep Whangamatā students engaged in learning.

Sunday night’s heavy rain also flooded six houses in Whangamatā, prompting the local fire brigade to send out two of its trucks. Fire chief Nigel Airey said their efforts to pump water were largely futile.

“There’s not a lot we can do,” he said.

“The water table is that high in town at the moment that we have trouble pumping water out because it just comes back somewhere else.”

Some of the garages or sleepouts affected had more than a foot of water gushing through them, Airey said. While no evacuations were required, he said a number of the properties were holiday homes and the extent of the damage within them would not be known until the owners returned.

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