Saturday, September 24, 2005

Through Cook Strait Darkly

Although I have lived 50 kilometres from Nelson half my life, I have never been there. It's a shame really, because it sounds like a nice place. It would be good to see it now before it becomes something else, Tauranga II for example. It's just that, well, it's too damned expensive to get there.

A round trip on the Interislander for one man and his car can cost as much as $255. Aside from the three-hourish crossing time, loading and unloading the vehicle can double the time reserved for the trip. Stuff that. For the same time and money I could fly to Fiji baby.

Time and money aren't the only pricetags. The hoo-ha over Toll's latest clanger, the Kaitaki, is a case in point. Toll might have meant well, trying to bring scales of economy to a prohibitively expensive but vital link between the Mainland and the Heartland. Evidence is growing though that the boat is way out of proportion to its surroundings. No-one in Toll considered whether the new boat could hook up at the ferry terminal. Now the Marlborough locals are pissed that the ship's wake is ripping the shit out of their shores. The latest on the latter can be read in detail in the Weekend DomPost offline A12.

Whatever happens, the only winners will be the lawyers. Toll risks losing up to $43 million a year through lost earnings if the Kaitaki is reduced to the speed of Jesus on the Galilee. Cruising the Strait will cost freight handlers and normal people even more in ludicrous tariffs. On the other hand, it would be a cold-blooded Kiwi who supports the shoreline getting carved up by such a blunt instrument. Decisions, decisions...

Instead of just bitching about things, goNZo Freakpower has researched possible solutions. The answer is simple. We need a bridge. Now before you say "Bullshit" and stop reading, please be patient. Imagine, just for a moment, a bridge spanning the Cook Strait from Cape Terawhiti in the north to Rununder Point in the south. Imagine hopping in your car with a bunch of mates and heading across the ditch for the afternoon and splitting the $30 toll between five of you. A World Wonder right here in NZ. Wouldn't it be good?

Engineering has come a long way since our antecedents constructed the Main Trunk Line. The world's longest suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, was built to withstand strong tidal currents, high winds and earthquakes. The Hangzhou Bay Trans-oceanic Bridge is a 36 kilometre long six-lane highway. An NZ version needn't be something like the dumpy, ugly and shortsighted Auckland Harbour Bridge with its cling-ons. One has only to admire the beauty of France's Viaduct de Millau to see what is possible.

I was having a smoke with an architect mate of mine last night when I brought this Think goNZo Scheme up. He remains sceptical of a cost-effective way to sink piles in an ocean floor that is up to 270 metres deep across a treacherous stretch of water that straddles a major faultline. However, he reckoned an idea he saw on the Discovery Channel about a Trans-Atlantic tunnel might do it. He's right, it's bloody brilliant idea.

In the spirit of the Ansari X Prize, I would like to see the NZ Government develop what I like to call the goNZo X Prize. Through private funding or government bonds, I would like to see a six- or seven-figure booty to inspire all of us to come up with a viable way to bring NZ together with a physical connection. We live an age of marvels, where dreams converge with the sciences. Space elevators made with carbon nanotubes and powered by lasers are a reality. What else is possible?

Whatever the outcome, the goNZo X Prize scheme would be a hell of a lot more value for money than another year of Judy Bailey.