Division over removal and trimming of pohutukawa at Otama Beach

27 Jul 2021

There is unease among a number of Otama Beach residents and homeowners about the recent removal and trimming of several pohutukawa trees that had been planted on the Otama Domain Reserve and along the Otama Beach Road and Blackjack Road roadside reserves. 

The Domain Reserve belongs to the Department of Conservation and the roadside reserves belong to Thames-Coromandel District Council.

The matter was highlighted in a Letter to the Editor published in last week’s Informer. A joint reply to the letter provided by TCDC and DOC stated that the arborist work had been carried according to the Otama Domain Reserve Landscape Plan, “a community initiative of the Otama Reserves Group for the long-term protection of the area that has been endorsed by both DOC and TCDC.”

Nick Kelly, DOC Coromandel district operations manager, added that his team’s focus is on the management of the historic and cultural values of a Ngati Hei pa site within the Domain Reserve. “Under the Conservation Act, we’re legally mandated to care for and manage the old pa site - that’s our priority,” he said. “There is currently a community management agreement in place for the pa, which we support.”

The reply also refers to a need to replace “vehicle parking displaced by landscaping to protect the pa site.”

The pohutukawa along Blackjack and Otama Beach Roads date back to the mid-1990s, when some property owners became concerned about the planting of the trees without discussion with fellow homeowners. “We commissioned landscape architect, Bernard Brown, in approximately 1995 to come up with a plan for the use and protection of the Otama Domain Reserve,” said Cameron Fleming, chair of the Otama Ratepayers Association. “Expecting the pohutukawa and other trees planted along Blackjack and Otama Beach Roads to get bigger over time, the preservation of view shafts was one of the issues addressed by the plan.

“Admittedly the plan gathered dust until a few years ago, when the Otama Reserves Group indicated that they would like to become involved in the management of the Domain Reserve.”

The Otama Reserves Group was formed to assist DOC with the management of six reserves at Otama Beach, including the Otama Wetland, the Otama Domain Reserve and the dunes along the beach, including pest control, weeding and native plantings. Last year the group planted more than 2,000 natives at the Otama Wetland and the count this year is already in excess of 1,500.

Concerned about indiscriminate parking on the Domain Reserve, up to 140 vehicles at a time over summer, and the general lack of care for the Maori pa site and a trading post on the reserve, the Otama Reserves Group entered into a management agreement with DOC providing for a range of protection and maintenance including “…a tree management programme to ensure road safety, visibility of the public toilet [on the reserve] and protection of property view shafts.”

The Group has also recently formed earth mounds on the Domain Reserve to prevent vehicles from being parked at the pa site. The mounds are in the process of being planted with low-growing natives. As the creation of the mounds caused the loss of car parking on the reserve, DOC and TCDC authorised the removal of some pohutukawa along Blackjack and Otama Beach Roads to create space for people to park. This was done in conjunction with the trimming of several other trees.

While acknowledging the good work of the Otama Reserves Group in the Otama Wetland, Michael Wolfe is one of the Otama Beach residents unhappy with the removal and trimming of the trees. “It’s a nonsense that the trees were destroyed to protect archaeological sites or for car parking,” he said. “These trees have been destroyed solely to create views. The fact that the destruction was sanctioned by the Otama Reserves Group, DOC and TCDC puts this case in a category of its own. A dangerous precedent has been set.”

Another Otama Beach property owner, Alan Rosoman, said alternatives should have been considered before any of the pohutukawa were removed. “If parking was the motivating factor, it’s a pity that no consideration was given to trimming the trees up for vehicles to park under them,” he said. “All around, that would have been a far better outcome.”

Pictured: The planting of natives on Saturday last week at the recently-formed mounds on the Otama Domain Reserve.