Fresh rock fall extends closure at Punakaiki

By Teresa Smith of the Westport News

Work continuing on the southern side of the slip after a rockfall on the northern side this morning forced debris removal to cease. Photo / Teresa Smith
Work continuing on the southern side of the slip after a rockfall on the northern side this morning forced debris removal to cease. Photo / Teresa Smith

A fresh rock fall this morning to the north of Sunday's slip near Punakaiki ended chances of the road reopening today.

About 200 cubic metres of rock fell at Meybille Bay around 11am forcing the suspension of removal work on that side of the slip and slowing progress.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) regional performance manager Pete Connors said State Highway 6 would not reopen today between Punakaiki and Charleston.

"Crews and geotechnical staff will be reassessing the site this afternoon to determine what work may be needed to stabilise it and ensure safety for road users."

Connors said around 1000 cubic metres, of the estimated 2500-3000 that fell on Sunday, was removed from the site yesterday by crews working each side.

Today NTZA had 12 trucks working the site - six each side with diggers - until the latest rockfall.

While work then ceased on the northern side it continued on the southern side of the original slip throughout the day.

NZTA advised drivers heading down the Coast to take State Highway 7 via Reefton today while roadblocks were again in place south of Westport, at the intersection of State Highways 6 and 7, and at Rapahoe, just north of Greymouth.

Punakaiki quiet

The continued closure meant another quiet day in Punakaiki apart from a regular stream of trucks bringing debris from the slip to the campground.

At the Punakaiki Café staff members reported that business was similar to that of a very quiet winter's day with few customers through the doors.

Punakaiki Craft Shop staff member Sharon Duncan estimated there was a 90 per cent drop in foot traffic yesterday, although customers who did come in made purchases.

At the Department of Conservation (DOC) visitor centre next door, superviser Prue Grant said there had been a definite drop in visitor numbers there too but a few tourists were still coming in.

She said the road closure was more of an inconvenience than anything else with two DOC staff members due in today from Westport and Wellington having to take the long way around via Reefton.

At the beach camp down the hill, manager Craig Findlay said the fall in guest numbers was more than made up for by the bonus of rock from the slip for sea erosion defence.

The slip has presented some logistical challenges for one Punakaiki resident, however, who was working at Fox River when it came down.

Rather than drive all the way back home via Reefton he left his car with friends on Sunday evening, scrambled over the slip and walked back home.

He then discovered he had left all his keys, including those for his house and work equipment, in his car so was hoping the road would reopen sooner rather than later.

Previous falls

An NZTA spokeswoman said records for the past 10 years showed there had been a number of short-term delays due to rock fall on the same section of highway previously but these had been mainly one-lane closures.

Short-term closures were recorded in 2015, 2011, 2010, 2006 and 2005, however, these were quickly sorted out by roading contractors with minimal delays to the public, she said.

There had already been a handful of incidents this year of rocks falling on the highway in the same area but not the exact same spot.

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