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Hinekura Valley – reconnecting a community

After a year of periodic isolation and separation, the residents of Hinekura Valley are once again connected. But the solution, a lifeline for the whole community, has come at a cost.
MARY ARGUE reports.
The slow, deep rumble of moving earth is an all-too familiar sound for Hinekura’s residents.
What began as a slip on Hinekura Rd in June last year, became a devastating 500,000 cubic metre landslide 12 months later.
It wiped out more than 500m of road, forcing residents to take significant detours.
The toll was huge, mentally and financially.
More than 30 families struggled with a 90-minute journey that was once 20, and some split up as a result.
But now, a kilometre-long farm track tacking back and forth over six paddocks, and two properties, has reunited families, and reconnected the community to essential services.
Rural Support Trust coordinator Sarah Donaldson says the construction of the road has been “absolutely vital”.
“Our families are now back together, rather than being based in Martinborough, where people were renting accommodation.”

The destroyed Hinekura Rd. PHOTOS/MARY ARGUE

She says many families were separated after June’s massive landslide during a “pretty busy time on farms” and residents were feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically fatigued.
“Access to Martinborough again was a light at the end of the tunnel for [their] business, education, social, and health needs.”
At its inaugural meeting last week, South Wairarapa District councillors approved an additional $40,000 in funding for the farm track through the McCreary and Hancock farms.
The additional funding takes the total construction cost to $165,000 after the South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] approved $100,000 in July, and the regional council contributed $25,000.

The new track has improved access to essential services for more than 30 families in the Hinekura Valley.

The ‘track’ is a well-made gravel road, beginning about 50m from the intersection to the now-defunct Hinekura Rd.
In the space of an hour on Wednesday morning, five four-wheel drive vehicles passed over it – valley residents on their way to school, the shops, or doctor’s appointments in Martinborough.
The Times-Age was told in no uncertain terms, that their two-wheel drive work car would never make it.
The earthworks are major. Bulldozers and diggers have cut into the hill, and laid the road with tonnes of gravel aggregate, creating a path used by an estimated 40 vehicles a day.
One resident said June’s landslide meant a rapid change for locals when contemplating access to health care.
“You’re weighing up an hour and a half journey compared to 35-40 minutes. It’s big.”
He said the farm road required a “robust” four-wheel drive and was slow going, passing through a couple of locked gates. However, it was far superior to the alternative Admiral Hill Rd.
The road, initially pitched as a short-term solution, will now be a lifeline for at least two years.
In September last year, the Greater Wellington Regional Council rejected the idea of relocating Hinekura Rd, despite a major slip a couple of months prior.
The regional council said shifting the road using a structural solution would cost millions and was not worth considering with remediation plans in place.
However, a structural solution is exactly what the council is investigating post-landslide.
In the meantime, farmer Don McCreary put up his hand to drive the construction of a track through his and neighbour John and Liz Hancock’s land.
Once approved for funding in July, the work began immediately, with the construction of the road finishing in a matter of weeks.

Both the McCreary and Hancock farms had to remove stock while work was underway, and even now any stock movement is limited in the area, in light of the increased traffic.
Facing a $40,000 bill, McCreary addressed councillors last week, outlining the variety of reasons the project went over the $125,000 budget, including material cost and wet weather.
“What’s been created is a good, safe road, but it was built at a very trying time of year because it was urgent to get it through. There was no waiting for summer.
“The weather has been horrendous, so it’s a pretty good achievement.”
McCreary said many people offered their skills or machinery pro-bono and it could have cost a lot more if constructed by the council.
SWDC group manager partnerships and operations Stefan Corbett said there was no obligation for the council to foot the bill, but “there are several reasons you might consider the extra funding”, and recommended the council to do so.
In response to questions from councillors, Corbett said next time he would be more prescriptive about project management.
“I wish I had helped Don more … and put more project management in place to help him out.”
Speaking to the Times-Age yesterday, McCreary said that overall, it was a collaborative project with the council, but he was disappointed with some of the difficulties he had to face.
“There was an understanding that I could do what they couldn’t because of all the red tape, and to get their backing in the form of the grant was reassuring.”

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