Central North Island town breathes again after road closure

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF Business as usual for Raetihi business owners after a temporary road opens across the slip on State Highway 4.

A central North Island town that spent 2 1/2 months with its main road cut off from the outside world has a new lease of life.

Ruapehu town Raetihi took a hit when State Highway 4 was destroyed in early October by an enormous slip about 18 kilometres south of the town, stopping the flow of trucks and cars that provide a vital economic lifeline.

Raetihi businesses took a hit, but the New Zealand Transport Agency opened a temporary road ahead of schedule the week before Christmas, which restored normality.

Visit Ruapehu general manager Jo Kennedy said some businesses that relied on traffic struggled when vehicles were diverted away, but the town and region rallied around to spend time and money in Raetihi.

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Raetihi's main street is back in business thanks to a temporary road.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF Raetihi's main street is back in business thanks to a temporary road.

"We're happy that it's open again and Raetihi has done pretty well promoting itself and staying afloat. 

"We've pulled together with Ruapehu District Council and ourselves, just promoting the things there are to do in town.

That's probably more so than in the past."

Even though it is not ski season, the region is still busy with tourists over summer.

"It's actually busier at this time of year because there's a lot more internationals around. We've got the Whanganui River and Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It's the key season for the crossing."

Raetihi's main street is busier than a month ago, with people stopping by on their way through for something to eat or to wander the pavement.

Lyn Griffin-Chappel has noticed business getting better at the Angel Louise Cafe.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF Lyn Griffin-Chappel has noticed business getting better at the Angel Louise Cafe.

Raetihi Promotions chairman Gary Griffin-Chappel had noticed a big difference in passing traffic since the road reopened.

But he said the effect of the road closure wasn't as grim as first thought, because the council had advertised Raetihi was still open for business. The transport agency also advertised Raetihi was still open while the road was closed.

"All the different businesses came together and came up with a few strategies about how we might help each other out and promote each other's business and share the love. That's the main thing.

"We promoted businesses through Facebook pages and when people came in we let them know each other were open."

Griffin-Chappel's wife Lyn, who runs Angel Louise Cafe, said business was much better.

"We've noticed a certain upturn in just traffic on the road.

People are coming in, which has been fantastic."

The temporary State Highway 4 has returned life and business to Raetihi.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF The temporary State Highway 4 has returned life and business to Raetihi.

During the road closure the business suffered, according to Griffin-Chappel's books, and she didn't replace staff if they left.

"It was tough. We had some days there where the till wasn't ringing at all."

Griffin-Chappel said it was now back to normal and the feeling in the community had lifted.

Tourist numbers dropped and Raetihi Holiday Park and Whanganui River Canoes owner Rebecca Mead felt the effect of the road reopening almost instantly.

"Pretty much as soon as the road opened again our holiday park was full again.

We were going from maybe one or two campervans if we were lucky to an entire holiday park full. It's been really, really good."

The businesses are busy with campers and people coming off the river after the detours had sent potential customers away from the town.

Ian Moore and Sarah de Heer opened their dinosaur museum just a week before the slip that closed SH4.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF Ian Moore and Sarah de Heer opened their dinosaur museum just a week before the slip that closed SH4.

Ian Moore and Sarah de Heer opened the Dinosaur House, a museum filled with dinosaur exhibits, in Raetihi in September, only for the road to close a week later, which affected visitor numbers.

"Just [last week] we had a few families from Whanganui and that was a noticeable improvement, and the numbers since Christmas have been fine actually," Moore said. "It definitely has helped a lot."

He said businesses were supportive of each other and encouraged visitors to go to other places in Raetihi.

"There was a lot of people who were starting to suffer and they were taking money out of the savings account to pay for the staff.

Now that's over everyone's relieved."

Coach Cafe owner Angie Robson said few tourists came through when the road was closed, which made life hard, but life was back to normal now.

"The days we've been open [now] have been busy. I've always had my locals, but I notice the tourists."

Waimarino-Waiouru ward councillor David Nottage said SH4 was an important lifeline and when it closed people had bypassed the town, but now people could spend money in the area again.

Two-thousand vehicles a day, including about 350 heavy vehicles, were suddenly not coming to town and neither was the spending that came with them.

The transport agency's regional transport systems manager Mark Owen said while officials were building the temporary replacement road, another team was working on a permanent route away from the slip.

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