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It’s a precarious journey down Hinakura Road

Hannah Wadley, left, Susannah McCreary, Mackenzie Walton, Liam Walton, and James Wadley. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO

Hinakura Road littered with slippery slopes

It’s barely light, but the children of the Hinakura Valley in South Wairarapa are preparing to head to school.

This was no ordinary school run. Just before dawn on Monday morning, a hardy group of rural children and their mothers headed up a winding and narrow rural road in the family car to near where the hillside is slowly crumbling into the valley below.

Near the top of the hill, they got out of the vehicles, put their packs on their backs and walked down Hinakura Rd, across the most hazardous stretch of about 300 metres. The area was cordoned off last week to all traffic.

On the other side of the many traffic cones, a small Tranzit school bus waited for the group. One of the mothers carried a toddler on her hip.

This was not a scene from a poverty-stricken country far away, this was a 25-minute drive from Martinborough – a 90-minute drive from the nation’s capital.

The Times-Age joined the group as they walked from their cars, across the damaged and failing road, to the bus.

The route the children walk is at best unnerving, at worst dangerous.

The road appears to be falling down the hill, along with massive trees hanging at almost 45 degrees and piles of stones and rubble alongside it. There is a sense the hillside could give way any moment.

The hill and road are studded with deep furrows where both are slowly subsiding. It looks like an earthquake fault-line – after the earthquake.

Without warning, the Times-Age reporter’s foot punctured the surface of the road where it had appeared solid, but was nothing more than a thin crust over a gaping hole. A reminder of how unstable the entire hillside was.

The Tranzit school-bus driver said the road was too dangerous for his vehicle. Up to seven children take the bus to school from here to Martinborough every day. The bus had not been able to get through since last week.

“We normally go right down to the hall,” he said.

“We have to wait for the council to reopen the road.

“I walked up [last week] to take a look and there’s no way I’d take that bus across. It would be totally unsafe

“You can imagine a 15-ton bus. If the bank completely ran away it could take the bus with it, so you just can’t take that risk. Safety is paramount,” he said.

Up to 70 people live and work in the Hinakura Valley. They rely on the road for everything from the school bus and essential supplies to getting their stock out.

Valley resident Bec Nicholson said the road was a fatality waiting to happen. She had corresponded with South Wairarapa District Council about the state of the road for months, but the road had not been fixed.

“It will take someone dying on this road for them to maybe do something about it,” she said.

“The trees are coming down with the road. It was the same last year and they have done nothing all summer. It’s a lot worse now.”

Valley farmer Jason Reedy described the road condition as disgusting.

“Look at what these kids have to go through.” he said.

Shannon Wadley had walked her two children, five-year-old James and six-year-old Hannah, across the slumped road every morning in the past week.

“It’s always been bad, but it’s never been this bad,” she said.

Nicholson said the only alternative route parents could take to the bus was through Admiral Rd to Longbush, a journey of about 90 minutes.

Fellow mother Becs Walton was there with her three children – seven-year-old Mackenzie, five-year-old Liam and three-year-old Grace.

After the school bus had departed, the three mothers described how difficult life was with the road closed. They worried about their children getting to school, or becoming stranded. The power often failed and repair vans would be unable to get in to fix them. There was no mail or ambulance access. The list went on.

“The slump got really bad this time last year and the road’s dropped a lot,” Walton said.

“All we want is communication from the council to tell us what’s happening. They haven’t told us anything and we can’t make decisions, we can’t do anything.”

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said he had spoken to South Wairarapa District Council mayor Alex Beijin about the road.

“I keep in regular contact with all Wairarapa mayors, so I anticipate he will have a further update next time we speak,” McAnulty said.

A spokesperson for the council said the Hinakura Rd subsidence was a serious issue with significant remedial work needed.

Council staff were at the site every day and a work schedule had been planned.

“Trees are being removed to allow necessary access to the area,” they said.

“The bank will be cut back following the tree removals. The road will then be smoothed out to allow limited access to light traffic only.

“Following this, the geotechnical experts will need to inspect the area. Drainage works are planned above the dam on the hill, subject to the landowner’s approval.’’

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