On 2 January this year a storm front bearing driving rain, gale force winds and even snowfalls passed over the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Walkers and car drivers were trapped by landslides and bridges and roads were washed away. On the east coast at Akaroa we were blissfully unaware of the dramas caused by this unseasonable weather. The first sign of the storm for us was the heavy rain which fell on our last night. The following day as we drove from Akaroa to Wanaka we were congratulating ourselves on our good fortune in seeing the Southern Alps blanketed by fresh snow.
It was only on 5 January in Wanaka that we found out that the storm might have played havoc with our travel plans. At the Tourist Information Centre we saw a travel warning: State Highway 6 was closed north of Harihari. Several spans of a major bridge over the Wanganui River had been washed away and it was not known how long the road would be cut.
Our plan after leaving Wanaka on 7 January had been to travel west to Fox Glacier and spend a day there before a full day’s drive north east to Picton along that same highway. After receiving some local advice we decided that as much as we wanted to see the glacier it would be wiser to make our way up the east coast instead. Luckily we were just a few hours inside the full refund deadline for cancelling our accommodation at Fox Glacier.
We had almost convinced ourselves that our new itinerary would just as enjoyable when on 6 January we started hearing reports that the bridge would be repaired and reopened by 8 January. In Australia the words “roadwork” and “haste” are never heard in the same sentence so we were sceptical when we heard the bridge would be passable just six days after being so badly damaged. Those same locals whose first recommendation had been not to take the risk now said that if the New Zealand Transport Agency stated the bridge would be fixed, then that’s what would happen.
So it was with bated breath on the morning of 7 January that we phoned the owner of the holiday apartments in Fox Glacier to ask firstly if they’d heard any news about the bridge and secondly if we could re-book our unit if the road was open. She answered yes to both questions. Not only was the bridge being repaired but it would be ready a day ahead of schedule. Our west coast adventure was back on track!
After an incredible visit to Fox Glacier we headed north along State Highway 6 on 9 January in pouring rain, passing roadwork which continued on regardless of the conditions.
These photos were taken through the windscreen of the car.
If it hadn’t been so wet and cold I would have stopped and thanked these workers and given gold stars all round. Their efforts were truly worthy.