There'll be a sigh of relief, and some celebration, in the Far North tomorrow when State Highway 1 through Mangamuka Gorge finally reopens - five months after a monster storm brought down a series of slips.
From noon Friday SH1 will be open to a single lane for motorcycles, private cars and other class 1 vehicles, with traffic lights controlling vehicles past the slip that's closed the gorge since July.
There will also be single lane access past another slip a couple of hundred metres away from the main slip. This will have give way signs like on a one-way bridge and there will be a 50km/h speed limit through the gorge.
While the road has been closed motorists have had to use a detour along SH10, adding another 30 minutes or so to their journey.
For those living south of the blockage, it's seriously impacted on their ability to visit Kaitaia - the nearest town.
Mangamuka Dairy owner Eliza Kete said there'll be a big sigh of relief when the highway finally reopens tomorrow, but she's also got a bit of trepidation. Her shop has been hit hard by the lack of traffic going past and she had been closing for weekends as a result. This will be her first weekend back open.
''It's going to make me feel fantastic. But I'm expecting some very busy days and I'm a bit fearful about it. Will we be able to handle it?
''But it will be great and we'll cope fine. We're all really looking forward to it, and it will be great for (Mangamuka community) and Kaitaia. We haven't had anything like the normal number of people through so it might be a bit overwhelming at first.''
Kete's only concern was why the road would be open only until January 11, when she felt it should be kept open till the end of January.
''That's when the season finishes really so it would have been nice to keep it open till then, but that's a small worry and I think people will just celebrate (the opening).''
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Northland system manager, Jacqui Hori Hoult said:
"Drivers are advised to plan ahead, keep to the temporary speed limit and allow extra time for the journey through the gorge. There may be delays getting past the slip site but that will depend on the amount of traffic.
"Waka Kotahi understands the importance of the holiday period to the local economy. We're very pleased to ensure the Far North is open for business over Christmas and the local community and holidaymakers can travel by the shortest route to Kaitaia and beyond.
"We understand the inconvenience and extra cost of having to travel on the recommended detour route (SH10) and we thank the local community and businesses on both routes for their patience and understanding while we worked as quickly as possible to fix the road.''
SH1 through the gorge road was closed by eight slips as a result of the July storm that dumped 220mm of rain on Northland in a few hours, causing extensive flooding and road closures. The big slip under the road on the northern side of the summit has kept the road closed since then.
On January 11, the road will be closed again to complete the piling and start on stage two of the repair, which is to cut into the hillside to realign the road and restore it to two lanes, Hori Hoult said.
The drilling rig and other equipment used on the big slip will move a few hundred metres up the road to fix the second slip where the road has dropped and is reduced to one lane.
"The repair work at both slips takes up the full width of the road so we have to balance opening the road to let traffic through with just getting on and completing the repair as quickly as possible. We are asking our contractors if we can keep a lane open part-time as we finalise our building methodology to see what is achievable and practical," she said.
"At this stage we plan to have the road at both slips restored to two lanes by mid-2021."
Until then, trucks and buses will have to continue using the SH10 detour route.