Celebration as State Highway 1 over Brynderwyn hills reopens

Excitement and relief swept Northland on Thursday as the region’s main connection with the rest of the country reopened at last after a four-month closure.

Just hours after the minute-to-midnight reopening of State Highway 1 over the Brynderwyns, a steady stream of heavy trucks was snaking its way in both directions over the slip-prone hills.

As the sun rose, the trucks were joined by commuters and business travellers relishing the direct route between Northland and Auckland, instead of having to detour via Waipu’s Cove Road or the longer but less convoluted Paparoa-Oakleigh Road.

Among them was Aucklander Manpreet Brar, who stopped at a scenic lookout on the Brynderwyns’ northern flank to watch the sunrise over Bream Bay.

As the owner of the Hunter Star Hotel in Kawakawa, Brar said he was constantly driving between Auckland and Northland.

The detours were exhausting and time-consuming, he said.

“It’s very exciting to drive through on the first day of the reopening. The other roads were very windy and very tiring. It was difficult, especially when I had stock in the back of my truck. We’re frequent travellers up north so it’s nice to see this open again.”

Also stopping to admire the view was Kathleen Paraha of Whangārei, who had given up travelling to Auckland while the Brynderwyns were closed. It was her first trip to the city since Christmas.

“It’s marvellous. Bloody marvellous. I’m glad it’s opened,” she said.

Eutopia Café

Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo and his Kaipara counterpart Craig Jepson made the pre-dawn drive to the lookout to celebrate the region’s reconnection to the rest of the country.

Jepson said the reopening of the Brynderwyns meant a great deal to Northlanders, as did the vista from the top.

“It’s always a special place. You come through here and you feel like you’ve hit the North.”

He paid tribute to the truckies who had faced longer hours and higher costs for the past four months.

“I looked at all the trucks coming up the hill both ways, those heroes we call truck drivers that feed us and supply us. They’ve finally got their route open again, so their costs can come back down and they can operate without having to drive those long, dangerous routes. The gateway’s open again,” Jepson said.

Cocurullo said the 115-day closure had affected the region severely, emotionally and economically.

“That’s why so many people are so excited to see the Brynderwyns back open. They’re all looking forward to the four-laning though, I will point that out now. And they’re ready for it to happen soon.”

The four-laning referred to by Cocurullo was the long-planned alternative route around the Brynderwyns, shelved in 2017 but now on the to-do list.

The coalition government has committed to settling on a route and starting design work during the current term.

Meanwhile, for businesses in Kaiwaka, a town on State Highway 1 just south of the Brynderwyns, Thursday’s reopening could not have come soon enough.

Staff at Eutopia Café described the closure as a disaster that cut takings by 50 percent from day one – and it came on top of years of Covid lockdowns, cyclones, lacklustre summers, and power blackouts.

Barista Bonnie Worsfold was stoked the town was now back on the main route north.

“Everyone’s really excited. It’ll bring life back to the North. We definitely needed it.”

Kristel Faber, assistant director of the Kaiwaka Cheese Shop, said the first week of the closure was “scarily quiet”, though business picked up a little after that.

“Overall business was slower of course than normal. We’re very happy the road is open again. Winter’s always quieter than summer but at least we have the traffic back, and that’ll make a big difference. Also, it’s Matariki long weekend, so we’ll definitely have more people coming through,” she said.

Businesses in Waipū, on the other hand, had the opposite experience. Overnight their quiet village, best known for its Scottish heritage and annual Highland games, turned into a busy travellers’ stop on the main detour for light traffic. While that did mean city-style traffic jams at the main intersection, it was a boon for cafes like Waipū Central.

Manager Paula McLean said the past four months had been “fantastic” for business.

Kristel Faber.

“Even heading into the winter months we’ve been super busy. We just hope that it’ll carry on. We hope some of these customers that have come to us will return, and just pull off that highway from now on.”

She didn’t even mind the extra traffic.

“Everyone was really pleasant. They were just pleased to stop off and have a coffee.”

And now that the Brynderwyns were open again, McLean had a message for the rest of New Zealand: “The sun’s shining. We’re open in Northland. Come on up.”

SH1 over the Brynderwyns closed initially for two months due to a series of major slips triggered by Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2022.

Concerns the road could fail entirely in the first big storm this winter prompted the New Zealand Transport Agency / Waka Kotahi to close the road again for more extensive work starting on 26 February this year.

The road was to have reopened on 13 May, but two fresh slips in April pushed that out to the end of June.

Today’s opening, just before Matariki weekend, was a few days earlier than expected.

The road works involved removing and shoring up large sections of hillside above the highway, and creating a wide shoulder so the road won’t have to be closed for long periods when future slips occur.

Repaving of the road will take place once the weather improves in spring.

The initial budget for the work was just over $60 million, but that increased to $84 million due to April’s slips and other factors.

One other section of SH1 remains closed in Northland.

A 13km stretch of highway through Mangamuka Gorge, south of Kaitāia, was wiped out by 35 slips starting in August 2022. It is expected to reopen in time for Christmas.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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