We’ve booked a trip of a lifetime to New Zealand, starting in February. My itinerary includes the South Island – visiting Nelson and Christchurch and travelling over on the Interislander car ferry. But following last month’s big earthquake, I wonder if we need to change our plans? Anne, Portsmouth
A large, 7.8 earthquake hit New Zealand’s South Island in the early hours of 14th November 2016 and caused quite a bit of damage. The worst affected area was around the town of Kaikoura, on the east coast of the South Island and about 100 miles north of Christchurch. It’s a popular stopping off point on the drive south.
There was also some damage in the capital Wellington, which is on the southern tip of the North Island.
Firstly, it’s important to realise that the majority of the country has been unaffected by the quake and all the major airports and most roads are open. That means you should still be able to fully enjoy this wonderful country when you visit.
The Interislander ferry, which links the North and South Island, had been suspended after the quake because of damage to the loading pier in Wellington. But it reopened earlier this month and is now operating a normal timetable.
Where you will experience problems is on the roads linking Picton, where the ferry docks in the South Island, and Christchurch. As of 9th December, the NZ Transport Agency reports that State Highway 1, which runs along the east coast from Picton to Kaikoura, is closed to all traffic except emergency services and residents. The scale of the damage means that’s likely to be the case for some months yet.
But you can still travel by the longer, inland route, which includes SH69 and SH7, via Murchison and Springs Junction and down into Christchurch. There are some remaining problems along the route, with the road down to a single lane in parts. That means the trip from Picton to Christchurch, which normally takes around six hours, will now take more like nine hours instead.
The road is also likely to be busier in the peak season too, adding further delays. The NZ Transport Agency says there could be four times the usual amount of traffic, including more trucks and large transporters.
It’s probably worth booking ahead if you want to find some accommodation en route to break the long journey, although that road is pretty remote and towns are few and far between.
An alternative is to take the west coast routes, through Greymouth. This is much longer, but there are some great sites along the way and plenty of small towns with accommodation, so you don’t need to make the drive in a single day.
There have been a series of aftershocks following the quake, which can still cause damage, so it’s worth going to the NZ Transport Agency website, www.nzta.govt.nz/traffic, for the latest news.
Another small inconvenience for UK travellers is that the quake damaged the British High Commission building in Wellington, meaning the offices have been vacated. So call ahead if you lose your passport and need a replacement – don’t just show up there!