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Work has begun on the gaping chasm between Kōpū and Hikuai, but it's not an immediate fix. Photo: WAKA KOTAHI

Businesses turn attention towards survival

In the wake of storms and the closure of State Highway 25A, Thames-Coromandel businesses are turning their thoughts to how they are going to survive the next nine to 12 months without direct access across the coast.

The Coromandel didn’t even make the top 10 visitor destinations for the month of February, Thames Coromandel District Council said, which is unprecedented.

Kristy Ralls at Prescotts Garage in Hikuai said the road closure was having a massive effect on the business.

“We’ve actually just had to make a young guy redundant because business since that road closed, plus all the floods and cyclones … the shop side of it has just gone so quiet. It just has such a flow on effect for our whole business,” she said.

There were also personal implications, she said.

“[Owner] Shaun lives in Kōpū, and he’s having to go the long way, potentially costing us about 12 grand extra a year for fuel and RUCs for him to do that.”

Kristy said she was worrying about how they were going to pay the bills.

“Normally we should be so cash-rich at this time of the year going into winter, and we are not at all,” she said. “It’s been quite stressful.”

She said there was barely any traffic through Hikuai now, apart from the road workers and the odd tourist who was unaware of the road closure.

“It’s just like dead man’s land out here,” she said. “It’s quiet, real quiet.”

Over in Thames, Kerren Adams of Valley Panelbeaters was similarly dispirited.

“The traffic volume coming through here’s not the same,” he said.

“At the moment it’s not affecting me too much because we’ve still got work to do, but people are choosing not to come to Thames now to get their RUCs and stuff done or looking at alternatives for their insurance jobs.”

Cancellations were coming in from over the hill now, Kerren said.

“It’s life changing for me. We’ve had all this Covid stuff and being locked down … it affects you mentally. Really, is everything worth it?”

Kerren said his commute, from Pauanui to Thames, was also unsustainable and he was having to stay in town during the week to avoid driving four hours a day.

“I’m gonna have to re-evaluate work,” he said. “I’ve worked all my life to be in a situation where I’ve got a nice house – I can’t even go to it because we can’t rely on the roads. I don’t want to waste my life in the car.”

Things were slightly more positive at Goldfields Mall, with owner John Freer saying his tenants were taking a proactive approach to marketing in a bid to find new markets until the road was reopened.

Still, he said, business was down, and there had been a noticeable effect on trade.

“We’ve got 22 businesses that operate out of Goldfields, and pretty much all of them are feeling some type of impact,” he said.

“It’s just an absolute imperative that [the road] gets open as soon as possible.”

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air