It’s not often it’s faster to fly from New Zealand to Los Angeles than it is for locals to drive from Christchurch to Timaru.
But that was the case after severe flooding closed main roads in the Canterbury region.
According to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) on Tuesday morning, road users wanting to get from the Garden City to Timaru would have had to have taken a 13-hour detour.
With the SH1 Ashburton River Bridge and SH1 Temuka to Hinds roads closed, travellers were directed to head north to the South Island’s west coast town of Greymouth before venturing south through Haast.
Road Transport Association New Zealand wrote on Facebook the usual two-hour trip would see drivers having to instead make a 1000km plus trip to reach their destination.
“The SH1 Ashburton river bridge has been closed because of slumping caused by the flooding and engineers will assess the damage.
“Waka Kotahi’s journey planner site is showing it is possible to get from Christchurch to Timaru — but only via the Haast and Lewis Passes, a trip that would take over 13 hours compared with just two hours normally!”
Others also pointed out the eye-opening detour with one saying it would be faster to fly to Los Angeles, more than 10,400km away.
“You could fly from Auckland to Los Angeles and get there before someone driving from Timaru to Christchurch,” one person tweeted.
While other faster routes were suggested at the time, Road Transport Association New Zealand said they came with safety warnings such as potential slips and surface flooding.
“There are a few alternate routes being suggested however RTANZ doesn’t recommend them. Access is restricted and may be closed at any time. The situation is changing.”
According to the NZTA, the Ashburton River remains closed for several days after reported slumping.
The SH1 Ashburton river bridge has been closed because of slumping caused by the flooding and engineers will assess the…
NZTA engineers have been inspecting the bridge, and no detour is currently available to SH1 at Ashburton at this time.
“We will know more about possible structural remedies this afternoon,” Waka Kotahi Journey Manager Tresca Forrester says.
“We need to understand the degree of damage before we can look at a repair strategy and possible timeframes for reopening the bridge.”
The NZTA has since updated its journey planner asking those heading between Timaru and Christchurch to use the route through Temuka, Geraldine, Mayfield and Ashburton Forks.
The trip will now take an estimated two-and-a-half hours, instead of the previously estimated 13.
Meanwhile, Ashburton locals are being helicoptered across the closed Ashburton bridge.
Gerard Rushton said he is helping to facilitate trips across the river in a commercial helicopter.
He said he had already made six trips across the river at 1pm on Tuesday.
“At the moment we’re just ferrying people across from one side of Ashburton to the other – people and any essential materials that need to be ferried across.”
Rushton said there is a charge for the trip but it depends on numbers and what it is.
Christchurch Helicopters is also ferrying people across the bridge.
“We’re doing transfers over the river from Ashburton Airport to the domain over at Tinwald and mustering up as many people as we can find,” marketing services manager Tim Murdoch.
The trip will set people back $100, which Murdoch said covers the cost of the operation.
“The crowds are building, we’ve done about 15 or 20 people so far but we have a heap more lined up.”
Murdoch said they are going to continue on for a while yet on Tuesday and are looking at going back on Wednesday.
Speaking of the devastation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says reinstating transport links and repairing the alternate route while the Ashburton Bridge is out of action is the main priority for the flooded Canterbury region.
The Government has declared the flooding as an “adverse event” for Canterbury, meaning $500,000 in funding can be unlocked for farmers and growers.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor made the announcement on Tuesday.
“The [$500K] funding can flow through to those directly on the ground to support the farmers who have been hit,” Ardern says.
Ardern surveyed the damage to the Canterbury region by air this morning.
“It is quite devastating, there is a lot of work to do. A big clean up job lies ahead of us,” she said.
Ardern said it was clear from the air that some farmers have lost some of their winter feed.
“You could see winter feed had been affected, you could see how for some farmers they’ll be completely cut off from accessing winter feed, you could see damage to fencing and of course the impact on transport links.
“We could see just from the air a lot of broken trees, shingles all through properties that will need to be cleared alongside fencing damage,” she explained.
“The funding will help speed up the recovery of farming businesses, and includes wellbeing support and specialist technical advice.”
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