Road reopening ‘welcome’

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    Real Journeys Milford Sound cruise crew celebrates the road being one step closer to being fully open. PHOTOS: LAURA SMITH

    THE first of the essential services convoys to Milford Sound Piopiotahi was cause for celebration as it passed through the flood-damaged highway on Saturday.

    The relief from hose employed by Milford Sound-based companies was obvious.

    Lack of access to the world heritage site had caused business to drop with tourists and supplies limited by the restrictions of air travel.

    Discover Milford Sound cafe and information centre manager Tandra Lawrence said while tourists were able to choose fly-cruise-fly options, the lack of tourists via road meant customers were few.

    The Wilsons were lucky travellers — having their own boat meant they could sail in and out of Milford Sound as they pleased. Annika (8, left), Oliver (7), Silke and Geoff Wilson were taking advantage of being some of the few tourists in Milford.

    However, she said they were acting as a “hub” for the community.

    “They are still able to come in for a coffee, grab a pizza. Just getting supplies in today mainly on our end for the community.”

    She was optimistic about having the road reopened soon to tourist buses, which was expected to be tomorrow.

    “Having it open just for a bit of normality for the team is nice, seeing some vehicles coming in. To be fair we’re used to isolation so it is what it is and you’ve just got to roll with the
    punches.’’

    Outside the cafe, the usually highly coveted parking spaces were empty. Even flight options were limited at the weekend as ex-cyclone Uesi made its way towards Fiordland; the few tourists who managed to land had short visits as pilots were anxious to stay ahead of the bad weather.

    Real Journeys area manager Jason Steele said they had seen a “massive downturn” with the road shut.

    “The other problem is getting our food in, laundry and just general supplies. But we were fortunate enough that major stores arrived just before the road closed.”

    He said the road was pivotal to Milford Sound and had “only two fly days in the past week”.

    As an area, operators had carried only 450 people on cruises on the first of the two fly days, compared to 5500 usually at this time of year.

    He said it would be great when the road reopened to the public. “I can’t wait to see some different faces other than staff. We welcome it, I want to show off our backyard and all that good stuff.”

    Preparations were made for the storm, with sandbags piled up ready if necessary but they were not required.

    Silke Wilson had sailed to Milford Sound from Nelson with her two children and husband; she felt lucky to have the place practically to themselves and was ready for any bad weather.

    “We were surprised by the lack of tourists. For us, it was amazing because we could go with our own boat to the waterfall.”

    She said they were waiting for any bad weather to pass before heading on again.

    The convoy consisted of about 15 vehicles going in but doubled on the way out as people took advantage of the temporary road access.

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