It’s not often you hear a good news story about a road.
The term “blowout” is applied often to budget and definitely to a timeframe. Incredibly, this was not so much the case with State Highway 25A, a crucial strip of tar seal between Kōpū and Hikuai that’s a lifeline for the economy of the eastern Coromandel Peninsula.
A year ago, during January 2023’s storms, the 25A was knocked out with a landslide. It was closed and initial fears were that it may never reopen.
Towns like Tairua, Whitianga and Pauanui that rely so heavily on the summer tourism dollar were going to suffer. Not only was it more difficult to get there, but visitors couldn’t be certain what would be operating if they did make it via one of the more “scenic” routes.
It might not seem like a lot, but the extra 30 to 45 minutes the other routes added to travel times seriously affected visitor numbers.
Enter Waka Kotahi.
In a Christmas miracle of cheesy family holiday movie proportions, it finished the 25A and reopened it on December 20. A 10-month turnaround on a roading project that looked like it might never happen must melt the ice around even the most cynical heart.
That, plus a much more settled summer, weather-wise, has meant the Coromandel was, unexpectedly, back open for business.
Sometimes unfairly tagged as “the place where Aucklanders have their bach”, the Coromandel Peninsula is actually very much its own community. It just happens to have some of the most iconic spots for attracting summer tourists and has come to rely on that business for livelihoods.
Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Whangamatā, Coroglen, Whitianga, Matarangi — all names synonymous with swimming, surfing, fishing, live music, camping, tramping and all the other things you do when the weather is good.
An economy doesn’t get much more seasonal than this. Last summer for the Coromandel was the equivalent of when a skiing town has no snow.
“It’s been challenging,” said the understated Lynda Grant, co-owner of the local radio station CFM and Head of the Mercury Bay Business Association.
“Many of these businesses are just recovering from Covid.”
Her message to the country and the world: “We are open and there’s still plenty of summer left.”
Things are definitely looking brighter for the Peninsula this summer, and there are more and more good news stories popping up in the area.
Tourism operator Cathedral Cove Scenic Cruises did 12 trips, in total, last January. This year they did that in the first four days of the month.
Paul and Fleur Clayton bought the Coroglen Tavern, one of New Zealand music’s most hallowed turfs, just a month before last summer’s catastrophic weather.
“You could describe it as a perfect storm,” quipped Paul, wryly. “But, in holiday towns, it’s the locals that get you through the hard times.”
After numerous cancellations and washouts, the gigs are back and so are the crowds.
The Coromandel has never had to do much advertising. It was always there, shown off in a thousand ice cream commercials or any company claiming to be a part of the classic Kiwi summer. You either knew it well or you thought you’d get there eventually.
It shouldn’t take floods, landslides and a cyclone to stop us from taking places like the Coromandel for granted but I guess, sometimes it does.
I think it was Joni Mitchell who said “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got… ’till it takes you an extra 30 minutes to get there.”
Something like that, anyway.