PHOTO: The town of Paekākāriki now sits alongside a quiet state highway. Photo: RNZ / Rosie Gordon

Towns north of Wellington that were once thoroughfares for State Highway One are now quiet seaside settlements after the $1.25 billion highway, Transmission Gully, opened three weeks ago.

The highway that runs through Pukerua Bay and Paekākāriki is now a much quieter State Highway 59. While less traffic is passing by residents and businesses are enjoying the quiet and hoping their towns become destinations.

Lifetime Paekākāriki resident Vernon Lancaster says traffic noise has been significantly reduced.

Transmission Gully

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“Three or four ambulances a day used to come through here. Sirens all the time. All gone now. You’re lucky to hear one ambulance. The main street is nice and quiet,” he said.

Lancaster said navigating the town’s once busy intersection onto the highway is much easier too.

“You could wait five or ten minutes just to get out of Paekākāriki and now bang you’re there,” he said.

Cyclists ride along the waterfront in Pukerua Bay, a small seaside community

Cyclists ride along the waterfront in Pukerua Bay, a small seaside community Photo: RNZ / Rosie Gordon

Fellow resident Svenja Donlon said the intersection is safer and even without heavy traffic going past the town is bustling.

“So far the village is still pretty busy, cafes and stuff are operating and have lots of people. We have also noticed a lot more bikes so whether people are making it a destination or not because of the road we’re not sure but we’re enjoying it,” Donlon said.

Jaz Ashby stopped in at Paekākāriki on her way home from a holiday on the Kāpiti Coast.

Fergs Coffee

“I think business will be affected because you’re not naturally just pulling off and driving in and having a coffee here. You’ve got to make a choice to do that,” she said.

Mauricio Torrealba, who owns the Fishermans Table restaurant in Paekākāriki

Mauricio Torrealba, who owns the Fishermans Table restaurant in Paekākāriki Photo: RNZ / Rosie Gordon

Fishermans Table restaurant owner Mauricio Torrealba said business had been impacted but for the better in part because of a reduction in traffic and the recent move to the Covid-19 Orange traffic light setting.

“It’s obviously way, way better. We have double the sales straight away. It just shows us the Transmission Gully effect is not going to do us any harm. It’s the other way around. Friday’s used to be a nightmare to get through here and now it’s nice and easy to get through,” he said.

The old State Highway One road runs through the settlement at Pukerua Bay – splitting the town in half. Co-owner of Greedy and Co Coffee Caravan Sarah Kirkpatrick said the reduction in traffic was having a positive impact on both her business and the community.

“People on the other side of Pukerua Bay are coming over more because it used to be very hazardous to pull out on the main road. The community is coming together more,” she said.

Greedy and Co Coffee Caravan in Pukerua Bay

Greedy and Co Coffee Caravan in Pukerua Bay Photo: RNZ / Rosie Gordon