Just over a year ago, a fire tore through three Waipū businesses completely gutting the buildings. Reporter Jenny Ling talks to the owners and staff about the challenges they've faced, and how they've bounced back.
First there was the mighty fire that ripped through three buildings in the middle of the night in Waipū.
Three businesses - Waipu Cafe and Deli, Waipu Pharmacy and Harker Herbals – were destroyed by flames so high they burned powerlines and so hot they melted stainless steel workbenches.
And then, as the ash settled and the business owners and residents surveyed the damage, there started another struggle – one with bureaucracy, rigid rules and insurance companies.
But the gutsy little town with the staunch Scottish heritage is made of tougher stuff.
The tight knit community rallied; tradies offered up their services to help, alternative premises were made available, and business owners battled through.
Cafe owner Jo Spring said the fire had certainly "taken a toll" on her and her team.
There have been struggles with the insurance company, who still haven't paid out, the stress of working in a different environment, and the constant barrage of questions from well-meaning public.
"It's just about broken all of us in way or another," Spring said.
"It wasn't just our workplace and it wasn't just my business, it was a massive hole in the Waipū village. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?"
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It's been just over a year since the fire engulfed the businesses located in the heart of the town centre, and the first full summer they've been able to trade with a regained sense of normality.
It was devastating for the small town that relies on the holiday season from Labour Weekend to Easter to boost its local economy.
Ten fire crews attended the blaze which happened in the early hours of September 30, 2018.
The flames cut power to nearly 300 businesses and households and also destroyed an electric vehicle charger station and an ATM.
In the aftermath, the businesses scrambled to find alternative places to trade; Harker Herbals moved into a warehouse behind the burned-out shell of its retail shop, the cafe moved into a disused cottage across the road and the pharmacy ran its dispensary under the umbrella of its co-business, Russell Pharmacy, with deliveries to Bream Bay customers.
It also set up a retail side for non-prescription products at another Waipu location just back from the main road.
Spring said her first priority was to keep her 14 staff employed.
The pop-up version of the cafe was made possible by selfless tradies who rewired, re-plumbed and decorated and fitted out the cottage.
It had been a struggle to get the business back to full capacity at the makeshift premises, but customers had remained loyal and patient, she said.
"I'm really grateful the landlord was able to get things up and running so quickly," Spring said.
"And the reason we were able to get our pop up running so quickly was because of the village we live in and because of our fantastic tradies."
Harker Herbals Manager Ian Johnstone, who has worked at Harker's for 15 years, said he was saddened by the fire, but people did "bounce back pretty quickly".
The store lost many historical mementos in the blaze, including a collection of around 40-50 original bottles from when founder, master herbalist Malcolm Harker first started, along with historical posters.
"It was gutting on the day of fire," he said.
"Everyone was gutted. It was quite amazing the heat of the fire. We had stainless steel workbenches and I came back to have a look afterwards and couldn't find a trace of those tables - they'd just melted. We couldn't believe it."
The herbal medicine store supplies products to 1200 pharmacies throughout New Zealand.
Though retail "has not doing as well as in the past" due to its current location Johnstone expects it will pick up this summer.
Johnstone said the new shop is nearly finished and he expects to be moving in this month. The company's head office will remain in the building it is now operating from, directly behind the old premises.
"Everything was backed up [on the computers] so we didn't lose any data," he said.
"It'll pick up again pretty quickly."
Things were tough for the pharmacy too; the Ministry of Health cancelled their licence following the fire, which meant they couldn't use their claimant number which is how they get paid from the Government.
Undeterred, dedicated staff made daily trips to Russell pharmacy to dispense medicine for their patients, then returned to Waipū at the end of the day to deliver it.
A Waipu Pharmacy spokesperson said this added on another four hours of travel each day until they were able to move into a temporary shop last December which enabled them to get their full services up and running.
The pharmacy will continue to operate there until replacement shops are built at the old site – but when that will be remains uncertain as the building hasn't started yet, she said.
Waipu Business and Community Society chairman Bruce Larsen said the fire was "pretty devastating" for the town.
"The main street isn't very big and three businesses taken out made a hole both visually and emotionally in terms of the people involved," he said.
"There was a lot of concern about whether they could make arrangements to keep operating."
The town's only pharmacy, in particular, was affected, he said.
"The elderly people in Waipū rely on the pharmacy for their medication and staff did a marvellous job in getting themselves in a position to keep servicing their customers. The pharmacy went right out of their way with home deliveries to get everything functioning. It will be great to see them back on the main street again."
At the time of the incident, Fire Service investigator Craig Bain said the blaze started in the cafe, and it seemed likely the cause was electrical.
A Fire and Emergency spokesperson recently confirmed the investigation found the fire started in the ceiling of the pantry at the back of the cafe.
But due to the extent of the fire damage, it could not definitively determine the final cause of the fire.
The cafe is set to move into its new premises at the end of the month, and Spring is excited.
She's taken the opportunity to create an entirely new space and rebrand the business, which will soon be named Goody Goody.
"The staff needed it I need it and we're going to embrace the change wholeheartedly," Spring said.
"It'll be good to be out of limbo-land. It'll be good to see the end of it. The sooner we can get settled in for summer the better, we're all looking forward to it."