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4WD road route opened into Kaikoura

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/11/2016

A road into Kaikoura has been opened up for relief vehicles to bring supplies to the quake-hit town.

The route, for military-grade 4WD vehicles, was cleared on Wednesday to allow water and other essential supplies to reach the town which has been cut-off since Monday's massive magnitude-7.5 quake.

Transport Agency highways manager Neil Walker said it had limited access to the town via the inland road from Culverden.

"This is emergency access for military vehicles and other essential services under escort only. The road is still high risk and is not yet open to private vehicles.

"Crews have been working from both ends since Monday to clear slips and assess the road and structures for damage," he said.

Mr Walker said he hoped to have the route open to the public by the weekend.

"We're asking people not to attempt to use the route for access in or out of Kaikoura until we've finished the urgent work needed to open it safely."

But he said SH1 along the coast, badly affected by slips, is likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future. The alternative inland route between Picton and Christchurch, via Murchison, is currently taking seven-and-a-half hours.

"This will likely be the main state highway route from Christchurch to Picton for several months, given the amount of work which will be required to clear the large slips which have closed SH1," he said.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said it will be probably months until SH1 is back up and running and has not ruled out minor diversions and realignments in order to make the road safer and more resilient.

In the meantime access is available via SH7 which will be further assessed to ensure it can cope with the peak season for freight and tourists.

Locals and emergency services can access SH1 between Seddon and Okiwi Bay and north from Cheviot to Goose Bay but are urged to drive with caution because of the risk of slips and rockfalls from aftershocks.

Meanwhile KiwiRail hopes to have ferry operations on Cook Strait back to normal by the end of the week, while Mr Bridges hasn't ruled out the possibility of the Interislander and Bluebridge ferries being used between Wellington and Lyttelton.

NZ First leader Winston Peters says coastal shipping must become a more active part of the transport equation, and Mr Bridges agreed there was a variety of options to consider.

The Aratere will remain out of action until at least Sunday because of safety requirements for loading and unloading while the Kaitaki and Kaiarahi are operating at 75 per cent capacity.

Foot passengers are able to travel between Wellington and Picton but not in the opposite direction.

Freight bound for Wellington's closed port is being sent to other ports around the North Island.

Bluebridge is operating a limited schedule and not accepting new bookings.

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