Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency have defended their handling of last week’s 1kmlong slip on the Haast Pass after a nearby tourism operator criticised the agency’s response as ‘‘vague’’ and too slow.
Wilderness Lodge cofounder Dr Gerry McSweeney said the community in Haast was ‘‘aghast’’ with the length of time the most direct route to Otago would be closed.
‘‘It is our lifeline, the start of the school holidays and the beginning of the summer season, and it is going to be blocked for a week,’’ he said.
The State Highway 6 alpine pass was closed at Muddy Creek after a slip on Thursday last week and remains closed to regular traffic until at least the end of the week.
Crews have been working to clear more than 20,000cu m of slip material from the site.
As of Tuesday, escorted convoys through the slip site commenced at scheduled times each day.
Dr McSweeney said contractors from the West Coast had gone to the blocked site and started work on Saturday morning, but shortly past noon had been told the remaining work would be carried out solely by Otago operators.
Dr McSweeney said contractors he had talked to on the West Coast believed they could have done the job within 24 hours and the road would be open by now.
‘‘Work should be done at both ends.
‘‘That way it could be done a lot quicker.’’
A representative for Waka Kotahi said contractors from the West Coast had finished work on Saturday only after filling their stockpile area — a site that must be approved by the Department of Conservation.
‘‘The work from that point on, much closer to and around the bridge itself, meant machinery and trucks ferrying material away would be more restricted and could be managed fully by the Otago Fulton Hogan crews, Aspiring Highways.’’
The representative dismissed claims the work could have been completed in 24 hours.
‘‘We would like to hear from those people directly,’’ they said.
‘‘The slip was 1km long and up to 4m thick in some places.
‘‘It is not soft and slushy — it had solidified into something like concrete with the snow at the end of last week and the weight of all the material compressing it along its length.’’
The representative said the area’s significance to both tourists and locals, and the fact it was managed by Doc, meant care had to be taken to ‘‘not cause further damage to the native habitats’’.
When it came to communication about the slip, the representative said the agency had a list of local stakeholders, which included hospitality providers, who were copied into regular email updates.
‘‘We have endeavoured to keep people as updated as our information enabled us to,’’ they said.
On Monday, prior to Waka Kotahi’s announcement about scheduled convoys, the Makarora township had travellers and locals alike show up in the hopes of being let through the roadblock just north of town.
A small group of whitebait fishers from Haast had arrived in the morning hopeful Waka Kotahi would arrange some sort of escort along the route that afternoon.
Aucklanders Geoff and Chris Hawke said their plans to take a helicopter flight to Franz Josef would likely be scrapped due to the road closure.
‘‘[It’s] not so bad for us because we’re staying at Lake Hawea and we can do other things,’’ Mrs Hawke said.
‘‘But I feel sorry for other people.
‘‘It’s the start of the school holidays and you can’t get started on your journey.’’
A staff member at the local Wonderland Lodge said although their cafe had been closed on Monday, they would consider opening up over the remainder of the week based on the amount of traffic passing through.