A second landslip at Blue Bluff in Ōtaki Gorge has set back plans to reopen the road leading to the Ōtaki Forks campground and Tararua Forest Park.
The road has been closed to walkers and vehicles since September 2020, when heavy rain created a slow slip. Wild weather during the weekend of June 26 and 27 last year created new cracks in the road surface over the slip, and last month, between December 6-8, heavy rain brought down another large slip 100 metres further east that covered the road. The road was closed for seven months in 2016 in the same area after a slip.
Kāpiti Coast District Council says the latest activity has made it more difficult to reopen the road. It has engaged engineering consultants WSP to review the situation and help develop solutions. The council hopes to have more information in the next three months.
Meanwhile, the only permanent residents past the slip zone continue to live without vehicle access to the outside world, and limited foot access.
Retired couple David and Kathleen Campbell live on about 120 hectares of land just past Blue Bluff that was previously farmed by Charlie Arcus. They built a house on the land and have lived there since 2001. However, for nearly 18 months they’ve not been able to drive on the road and have had to use a buggy and pack to transport groceries and other items to their home.
During most of that time they’ve risked traversing the road on foot, but after the latest slip, the only safe route is along a difficult track that skirts the slip area. The Campbells have to walk across the track towards the old dam built by Charlie Arcus, up to the top of a the Cyrus Hills Forest, back down the other side, along about 500m of the closed Ōtaki Gorge Road, then across a closed gate. They can then drive to the highway.
“It’s an official DoC track, but it’s avoided by a lot of people trying to get to the gorge because it’s a difficult track,” says David Campbell. “The authorities want people to use that way to get in.”
The only other way of getting in is along the closed road, but the council warns it’s dangerous.
On its website, the council says it’s frustrating to have the road closed for such a long time, but there are significant safety issues. The slip has caused the road to slump and it could drop out into the river any time.
“We have to put the safety of people first. While the road remained unstable closure was our only option,” the council says. “Rushing into reopening a road that is showing this kind of movement is not wise.
“Fixing any road requires solid information about the ground underneath, a suitable design, funding and a process to select contractors to do the work.”
The council had been looking throughout last year at how it could reopen the road, and had conducted specialised geotechnical work. In the latter part of 2021 the road had stabilised enough to reopen part of it for a walking and cycling track. Then the December slip came down.