DOC’s South Marlborough district that includes Kaikōura was most seriously affected. Landslides, rockfall, and land uplift caused extensive landscape change in coastal and backcountry conservation areas. There was damage to tracks, huts, ecosytems and some habitat of some native species. Two huts, Barratts Hut and Barratts Bivy, and an historic Clarence Reserve bunkhouse were destroyed.
DOC’s Northern South Island Operations Director Roy Grose said DOC’s focus has been on determining impacts on native species and implementing measures to protect them, repairing damaged visitor facilities to restore access, and working with North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) to minimise impacts of the transport corridor reconstruction on seals and other conservation values.
“It’s been a huge job for our South Marlborough team to assess and remedy earthquake damage, where possible, with considerable support from other DOC staff and other organisations and individuals. I thank all involved for the tremendous work that has gone into looking after affected taonga native species and conservation areas.
“Most South Marlborough and Kaikōura conservation areas are open to the public. Some remain closed because they are unsafe, inaccessible or repairs are still to be carried out.
“The extent of impacts on affected native species is still to become fully clear. Hutton’s shearwater and New Zealand fur seals are being seen in large numbers though some damage occurred to their habitats. Work will continue over summer to determine the full impact on the Hutton’s shearwater population and what changes there may be in the Kaikōura seal population.
Roy Grose said NCTIR’s liaison with DOC was valuable in minimising the highway reconstruction impacts on native species and the natural environment and in planning for amenity facilities along the coastal highway.
“We’re very pleased with the care and considerable effort of NCTIR workers and its seal team to move seals away from reconstruction work to keep them safe, mainly at Ōhau Point, the largest seal breeding colony on the Kaikoura coast.
“With the two massive landslides that came down at Ōhau Point and the construction work there, many seals have moved to the north though a considerable number remain at Ōhau Point.
“The Kaikōura seal population is large with about 2000 pups born each year at Ōhau Point alone. Overall the population is showing resilience to earthquake impacts and the road reconstruction work.
“The Ohau Stream waterfall pool that was a popular spot for watching seal pups, remains unsafe and closed to public access. A large section of rock face broke away in the earthquake filling the pool with rocks. The rock face is unstable with danger of further rockfall.
“South Marlborough is a centre of endemism, with plants, plant communities and animals that are found nowhere else. The slips and dams caused by the earthquake have had a significant impact and many native plant communities are now considerably reduced in size and distribution.
“Plant communities now have new habitat to colonise but need protecting from goats, weeds and other threats to recover. We are controlling pests in areas when they become safe and accessible and assessing what additional measures are needed.
“It’s also been important to us in DOC to support the Kaikōura community in its recovery, including that of its all-important tourism industry. With the reopening of State Highway 1, it’s hoped high numbers of visitors will again flock to Kaikōura to enjoy its renowned attractions this summer.
“Kaikōura’s iconic sperm whales and dusky dolphins are still there with trips to view them available. Seals can be seen at Port Kean on Kaikōura Peninsula and elsewhere. The Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway is a great short walk for families with stunning views of the sea and mountains.”
Recreation facilities and conservation areas
In the aftermath of the earthquake, DOC staff carried out the extensive task of inspecting tracks, huts and visitor sites to check for damage, including in vast, remote terrain, and then making repairs. Some facilities are still to be repaired and reopen.
In Molesworth Station, slips were cleared on the Acheron and Rainbow roads and damage to the Molesworth Cob Cottage was repaired. Two other historic cob buildings, the Acheron Accommodation House and Quail Flat Cookhouse, require major reconstruction work and are not in use.
Minor repairs were made to multiple backcountry huts. On Mt Fyffe, repairs were made to the road and major work was undertaken to reopen the Fyffe Palmer Track. The Kowhai-Hapuku route and Spaniard Spur Track in this area are currently closed awaiting repair.
People are advised to stay away from Isolated Hill Scenic Reserve due to earthquake-generated hazards and its striking Sawcut Gorge is closed. A Geotech engineer has carried out an inspection and his report with advice on areas that are safe to access is awaited.
Okiwi Bay and Half Moon Bay tracks and the Okiwi Bay campsite are closed. Major repair work is planned to start on the tracks in the next few months.
Ōhau rock daisy
A plant that only grows on the Ōhau Point coastal bluffs, the Ōhau rock daisy, had most of its habitat wiped out by a landslide and only an estimated 80-100 plants remained. Steps are being taken to restore its population.
NCTIR abseilers collected seed from six rock daisy plants that has successfully germinated with about 200 plants now growing at a nursey near Nelson. It is planned to plant most of these on the Ōhau Point bluffs next autumn and to collect more seeds for cultivation and replanting back in their natural habitat.
Approximately 10 to 15% of the Hutton’s shearwater nesting burrows in its two remaining Kaikōura Ranges colonies were wiped out by slips. It’s likely nesting birds were killed and their eggs destroyed.
It’s unclear to what extent these losses have impacted on the Hutton’s shearwater population and there is ongoing work to determine this. Encouragingly, since the earthquake large flocks of the seabirds have been seen feeding at sea and this spring the birds have been flying into the colonies for the breeding season.
A third Hutton’s shearwater colony established on the Kaikōura Peninsula is intact. It was set up to ensure the species’ survival in the event of major damage or destruction to its mountain colonies.