Reopened marina and healthy tourism bookings buoy town year after huge quake, but rebuild far from over.

Kaikoura has paused to remember the giant earthquake that changed its town - and seashore - forever.

Signs of hope are roadblocked by constant reminders that the picture-postcard seaside tourist town's recovery remains an ongoing effort 12 months after the magnitude-7.8 quake that struck on November 14 last year.

The official opening of the multi-million dollar redeveloped marina at Kaikoura Harbour was seen as a major step in getting back the much-needed tourist dollar that it so relies upon.

Major tour operators Whale Watch and Dolphin Encounter can now ramp up trips as they are buoyed by promising advanced summer bookings.


A dawn ceremony at the harbour brought together many people and agencies who have helped in the town's ongoing recovery, said Minister of Civil Defence Kris Faafoi. A community picnic tonight was also expected to bring many locals together.

"The community showed out in force because they know the marina re-opening means so much to the town. People are truly appreciative of the mammoth effort to get the harbour back in business," Faafoi said.

But it's the road network, especially State Highway One north and south of the town that locals are relying on to help get the place back on its feet.

The road north to Blenheim is due to reopen on December 15, but aerial tours of the massive rebuild efforts show that it will be far from completed next month.

When it does reopen, the NZTA has warned that it will be in a limited capacity, subject to routine closures for ongoing works, and also in the events of aftershocks or heavy rainfall.

Clarence Valley farmer and Kaikoura District Councillor Derrick Millton is still cut off from Kaikoura on his property by the Clarence River.

Kaumatua Brett Cowan leads Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi, Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and the official party during the blessing of Kaikoura's new marina. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Kaumatua Brett Cowan leads Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi, Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith and the official party during the blessing of Kaikoura's new marina. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Herald was today flown from Kaikoura to Parikawa airstrip near Millton's property by Air Kaikoura which has made that journey a staggering 2000 times in the last 12 months.

Locals, businesspeople and tourists use the service up to 15 times a day.

Millton hit global headlines this time last year when footage showed of three of his cows stranded on a small grass island amidst the chaos after the quake.

While Millton was busy trying to save the Herefords, phonecalls from BBC, CNN, ABC and other major news networks came in wanting to know whether the two adult cattle and calf would survive.

Even Prince William, who stayed at the farm during the 2005 British and Irish Lions rugby tour, messaged the Milltons to say, "Your friends in England are thinking of you".

"The world just seemed to want to know and I realised just how important they were to the whole earthquake story," Millton recalls a year on from that fateful day.

The anniversary also brought back a lot of memories for townsfolk - and emergency services first on the ground that day.

Sean Lester, St John territory manager for North Canterbury, whose large patch stretches from the Waimakariri to Clarence rivers, landed in Kaikoura 90 minutes after the quake struck at 12.02am.

Leila MacKinnon's daughter Jo-Anne was killed in the Kaikoura quake, one year on the 82 year old has finally been able to say her goodbyes.

The adrenalin of the response felt eerily familiar. Just five years earlier, he'd been working in Christchurch CBD when the deadly February 22 quake struck.

Lester spent hours amid the chaos, smoke and rubble of the pancaked Canterbury Television (CTV) Building where 115 people lost their lives.

But the experience foretold what to expect on the ground in Kaikoura in those first early hours where phone lines were down and information limited.

He helped establish an operating base at Kaikoura Hospital and asked for a 48-hour roster to be drawn up from local volunteers.

"We had a great response from our local volunteers who while they may have suffered damage to their homes and lives, their natural response was to help people," Lester said.