- Traffic has been lighter than expected during temporary openings of the Lemons Hill road
Traffic was lighter than authorities expected when the road through Lemons Hill opened twice for the 30-minute rush hour yesterday.
The first limited opening of the road, which has been closed for nearly 10 weeks, was on Monday, between 7.30am and 8.30am and again between 4.30pm and 5.30pm.
Roadworkers said the first half hour both days had been busy, with traffic tailing off after that. The openings are a gesture to locals, to relieve the extra 40km travel many people living or working on the Opua side of State Highway 11 have been making.
The long road closure between the coastal side of Bay of Islands and Kawakawa has hit businesses hard on both sides of the divide.
New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) hopes it can continue with the limited daily openings until the road is fully opened, but daily assessments of the road's stability could see any planned opening called off at short notice.
Meanwhile, carefully managed lines of vehicles will be led and followed by traffic management trucks as one-way traffic is allowed through at those peak times.
Any vehicles arriving at either end of the blockage after the close-off times of 8.30am and 5.30pm will not be allowed through.
Traffic manager Peti Paraone said there had been fewer people taking the opportunity than expected but the number would increase as word got about. Yesterday was twice as busy as Monday, he said.
Fist pumping, thumbs up and cheery shouts indicate how pleased 100 or so motorists were to use the road, even for a limited time each day. But strict safety precautions include hired security staff on hand in case any motorists took their frustrations out on the stop-go and other road workers.
Independent travelling tourist numbers are down for this time of year, and Paihia Business Association chairwoman Robyn Stent said there has been a drop in daytrippers and short-stay visitors from Whangarei, for example.
While there are no hard figures available yet, anecdotally many businesses had been quieter than usual, Stent said.
Anyone passing through Kawakawa in recent weeks would be excused for thinking Paihia's loss was Kawakawa's gain. The town has appeared to be bustling, a honey trap for traffic that would normally head straight past to the BOI waterfront towns.
But Business Association chairman Malcolm Francis said motorists are stopping mainly for a coffee fix and selfies at the Hundertwasser toilets. They are not buying commodities.
Nor are the regular customers from the bay area coming to shop in Kawakawa, he said.
Customers now head out to Puketona then north to shop in Kerikeri, a quicker journey, Francis said.
''Yes, there have been benefits here in Kawakawa as far as food outlets go — they appear to be booming, but we reckon commodities and other retail sales have been 15 per cent down since that hill came down.''
Across at Russell, part owner of the iconic Duke of Marlborough Hotel Riki Kinnaird said customers are cancelling their bookings every day.
Bookings for weddings, international visitors and group tours remain solid but Kinnaird thinks there's a ''psychological block'' for domestic travellers for whom an extra 40 minutes through Puketona is a long and winding road too far.
Neither Kinnaird or Russell Business Association chairwoman Janet Planet thought the temporary ''peak half hour'' openings would make much difference to visitors heading for Russell, although it would benefit tradespeople and other workers.