Road access to the small town of Takaka in Golden Bay could be open tomorrow, but will be limited to escorted convoys during the day and motorists may have to wait several hours.
The town was cut off by Cyclone Gita's ravaging storms this week, which caused several large slips on SH60 from Riwaka to upper Takaka.
The Takaka Hill road is the only route in and out of the small town of 1150 people, the centre for thousands of tourists who flock to Golden Bay and attractions like Farewell Spit in summer.
The NZ Transport Agency says while a complete rebuild of at least one section of SH60 between Riwaka and Takaka will be required after the significant damage wrought by Cyclone Gita, the immediate focus is on re-establishing single-lane access as soon as possible.
NZTA System Manager Frank Porter said the aim was to provide restricted single-lane access for essential vehicles through the route from tomorrow.
"We understand how vital this road is as a lifeline for people in Golden Bay. We are doing everything possible to re-establish access as soon as possible, but the road has been severely damaged, and we must be certain that people can get through safely before we can re-open.
"Crews have made great progress clearing debris from more than a dozen large slips this week, but the hillside has completely collapsed at a site approximately 1.5km west of Riwaka, taking most of the road with it.
"Our work crews are working urgently to make this site stable enough to safely open up a single-lane track," he said.
Travel will be one-way, under escort in guided convoys, with strict safety controls in place from 9am to 5pm and motorists may have to wait for several hours.
"We have to restrict the number and types of vehicles and only allow people through who have to travel because of the challenges of getting vehicles over the hill and the need to ensure people's safety," says Mr Porter.
Porter said the convoys would be allowed to proceed pending final checks by geotechnical and safety engineers tomorrow morning.
"As the day progresses, we may have to close the road. People will only be going over if it is safe.
"We're urging people who don't absolutely need to travel immediately to allow us to give priority to those who do. The most pressing need is getting fuel, feed for stock and essential freight into Golden Bay, and getting milk and other freight, tourists and people who need to attend medical appointments to the Nelson side of the hill," Porter said.
The following vehicles are not permitted to travel on Sunday, given the road conditions:
cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, caravans and trailers, truck and trailer units, over-dimension (OD) vehicles and any vehicles needing a permit.
Porter said NZTA would update its Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly, including details about the wait times on each side. People need to be prepared to wait in the parking areas.
More up-to-date information and updates on work to repair Takaka Hill Road:
0800 4 HIGHWAYS