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'Christmas will be hard' for Kaikoura locals as slow rebuild looms

As the rest of New Zealand prepares for Christmas, Kaikoura locals are trying to look forward to the festive season at the same time as bigger concerns about the future of their shattered town weigh on their minds.

1 NEWS travelled to the quake-hit community to see how the locals are getting on after the life-changing event. Source: 1 NEWS

The Inland Road, the only overland route in and out, remains sketchy, with car-sized boulders threatening to tumble down from the scarred hillsides and once again close access.

Milk tankers and cautious SUVs make their way through the Hurunui countryside twice a day, bringing a pulse of life back into town one vehicle at a time.

At the Recovery Assistance Centre, set up in the town's Catholic church, Maori Warden Aroha Boyd perhaps sums it up best: "Christmas is going to hard for our people - it's going to be really hard."

She has lived in the town all her life, and is one of many residents standing up and helping their own community, giving a local face to anxious families looking for a hand with bills, accommodation or food.

Aroha Boyd says Maori are often the last to ask for help - even when they are plainly in need. Source: 1 NEWS

"Just seeing that local face does make a difference for them," Aroha says. "Our people, and I talk about our Maori people, they're very shy people - everything's like 'we're OK' - they're not really.

"I just think, Christmas Day, just as long as all the whanaus are together and hopefully enjoy that day, and then look at rebuilding our community.

"I believe with what's happened, our community is going to be tighter, hopefully closer - we'll get through it, we really will."

Captain Lindsay Andrews says they are trying to help people prepare for a very different 2017 than the one they had imagined. Source: 1 NEWS

'Kaikoura will be different'

Aroha's sentiments are echoed by Salvation Army Captain Lindsay Andrews who, along with other members of his organisation, has been sent to Kaikoura to "come alongside people" at a difficult time of the year.

"Christmas itself is obviously going to be different," he says.

"People are sharing some hope, but there's also a lot of unanswered questions, so there are a number of people who are concerned about what the future might look like here in Kaikoura.

"When people return, they're not sure what they're going to return back to.

"This is a really tough time for families, with uncertainty, with jobs and extra costs as a result of the earthquake.

"But it's going to be the journey probably from Christmas onwards that will impact them.

"One of the things with Kaikoura people, they're very resilient. Kaikoura will be different, but maybe it will be better."

Yardy Chapman's tattoo shows a map of epicentre, and Julie went for seismograph - and they both love them.

'Like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer'

On the outskirts of town, Yardy and Julie Chapman are among the locals trapped in limbo by the quake, unable to continue their home renovations until insurance is settled, and considering leaving town if work dries up.

It's difficult to describe the sheer force and power of the quake, Julie says.

"At the time you didn't register exactly what, but afterwards when you see what happened, you know you're hearing everything smashing, and then every glass thing breaking, and the fridges going over and everything smashing, it was just an unbelievable noise.

'You felt like a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer," Yardy adds. "You just didn't know which way was up."

Just down the road, a Canary Island palm tree has toppled over, along with an immense 10 metre macrocarpa which has stood for decades.

Neighbours' homes just a few sections away are red-stickered with cracked facades and fractured driveways - but the Chapmans' home came away remarkably unscathed.

“We got off lightly with this place, but the poor buggers across the road, their houses are bent like a banana," Yardy says.

He reckons the biggest change he has noticed since the quake has been the people themselves.

"They're very withdrawn, and scared. I'd say a lot of people are still absolutely petrified."

Yardy works in the logging industry and says he's been fortunate that a demand for timber after the quake has kept his company going, but says the lack of tourists is killing the town.

"Without the tourists, there's no Kaikoura," he says.

Source: 1 NEWS

Julie agrees: "It's affected all of us. I work at motels and apartments - nobody is staying there, so there's no money coming in that way for us either - so it's a trickle-on effect for everybody."

Following the quake, the couple decided to start living in the now, both of them getting quake-themed tattoos on their arms and then becoming the first couple to get married in Kaikoura since the quake.

"We weren't setting any date, but I don't know, things change," Julie says. "We just thought it was the right time to go and do it, even though no one could be here with us, it just felt right."

Christmas for them hinges on whether the Inland Road is open, as they plan to visit family in Hanmer Springs. But overall, it's looking "bleak", Julie says.

Kauahi Ngapora says the marina needs to be dredged as soon as possible if clearing the Inland Road and State Highway south is to be any good for tourism. Source: 1 NEWS

'Starting to wear people down'

Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of the town's biggest businesses, employing around 70 people and attracting thousands of tourists each year. Their huge beach-front carpark is a testament to the traffic which usually passes through.

General Manager Kauahi Ngapora, who has worked his way up from "spew-bucket emptier" over the past 23 years, says these are definitely "challenging times" for businesses in the town.

"We'd just geared up for what was going to be an amazing summer season," says Kauahi.

While he and his family are looking to leave town over Christmas for a while, he also says that he and other business owners are eager to get the community back on track.

Well, it's a new part of our history now - of our whanau's history - so I guess I deal with it because I'm quite busy still, trying to get things going with this place, trying to support the community.

"But I guess these things are starting to wear people down, so I think around that Christmas time we might get out of the town for a couple of days and see what the real world's up to, come back refreshed and keep battling.

"It's going to be tough, it's going to be challenging, but I think we’re prepared for that, and we're ready for it.

"The key for us is infrastructure - if we can get infrastructure back up and going, we have a fighting chance."

He, like many other locals, is hoping the Government will follow through with their promises of help and that New Zealand won't forget about Kaikoura.

"We're hopeful - we've had many different ministers visit us, we've put forward to them the challenges we face and what we need to happen, so it's really important that they follow through with those things," he says.

"At the moment, we're in the spotlight, everyone's looking at us, but I think the real challenge is when everyone leaves and the move and other things are happening in the world."

His message is simple.

"We just want to tell New Zealand - when we're back on our feet and we're ready, please come back.

"Please come back and support this town."