Wednesday, 27 January 2021


The Informer Year in Review

We all know what the defining story of 2020 was. But while COVID-19 certainly dominated our lives and subsequently the headlines, there were plenty of other tales to be told. The Informer Year in Review looks back on some of the highlights of the unforgettable year that was.

The Informer of 8 January

Volunteers from the local community in and around Matarangi have been credited for helping save the lives of seven pilot whales, including a calf, that stranded on the beach last weekend. A total of 11 animals were discovered early on Saturday morning at the Matarangi Spit adjacent to The Dunes Golf Course. It is believed a calf may have beached first, causing the family pod to follow.

The Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust/Informer/More FM petition to reinstate a rescue helicopter based in Whitianga over the busy summer season and peak holiday periods is off to a flying start. Accurate figures aren’t yet available, but anecdotal evidence suggests more than 8,000 signatures have been collected since the launch of the petition on Tuesday last week (by the time it was submitted to Parliament later in the year, the petition had over 43,000 signatures).

Low rainfall and increased demand are leading to water shortages at a level that have not been seen on the Coromandel for several years. Thames-Coromandel District Council is pleading with locals and holidaymakers to heed the advice to conserve stocks in order to avoid the need for more extreme action with no substantial rainfall expected for several weeks.

The Informer of 29 January

Scooter mad Mercury Bay Area School student, Seth Smith, proved he could handle himself among New Zealand’s best, taking out third place in the Under 13 Category at the Australasian Scooter Association New Zealand Nationals in Christchurch. In what was his first ever competition, Seth faced off against 15 others in his age group and overall was pleased with his performance. “My first run went well. I had one fail in my second run, which they would have deducted points for, but I was pretty happy,” he said. The competition attracted around 500 competitors starting from age seven right up to the Open Category where Seth was excited to watch some of his idols in action.

The Informer of 12 February

More than 150 people attended a public meeting in the Whitianga Town Hall last Sunday afternoon to discuss the current total watering ban in Whitianga. In addition to Allan Tiplady, Thames-Coromandel District Council’s Area Manager North, and Bruce Hinson, TCDC’s Operations Group Manager, the meeting was attended by TCDC councillor, Tony Fox, and several Mercury Bay Community Board members. Mr Tiplady pointed out that Whitianga’s storage capacity of treated water is just more than one day’s peak period consumption and about four days’ worth of normal consumption.

The Informer of 18 March

“Constrained resources” is the reason for at times lengthy delays in responding to emergencies on the Coromandel Peninsula. St John Territory Manager for East Coromandel, Rosanne Shaw, also highlighted the increasing volume of calls local crews are having to respond to, particularly in the past 12 months, but said no further ambulances could be staffed as funding was not available. Roseanne was responding to queries about the level of cover available on the Peninsula after one recent incident saw a Whitianga man, who believed he was having a heart attack, wait 90 minutes for help to arrive.

The coronavirus pandemic caused the 20th annual Repco Beach Hop, which was scheduled to take place next week, to be postponed until November. The decision was taken last Monday afternoon as prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced an indefinite ban on all gatherings of more than 500 people. Schools and universities are exempt for now, with the Ministry of Education providing specific advice on risk management. Guidelines for the holding of smaller events were also due to be announced later in the week.

The Informer of 25 March

Promises that it was coming did little to insulate the shock as news broke on Monday afternoon this week that the entire country was going into lockdown for a four-week period in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19. Schools, restaurants, bars, libraries and all non-essential services are now closed with New Zealand on Wednesday moving to Alert Level 4 - the highest level available to the government. Businesses that have spent the last couple of weeks battling on in the face of increasingly challenging restrictions must now close their doors. The health and welfare of the community remains the number one priority as new procedures are introduced at GP clinics and medical centres on the Coromandel in response to the pandemic.

“Live within your means” was the instruction to Thames-Coromandel District Council at an Annual Plan consultation meeting in Whitianga where the public demanded plans to lift rates by an average of 9.98 per cent be scrapped. Council is aiming to raise an additional $7.1m through increased rates, fees and charges in the 2020/2021 financial year, $4.3 more than was estimated two years ago in its Long Term Plan 2018 - 2028. The clear view of the room was that council needed to go back to the drawing board, with some arguing that rates should be frozen in the wake of the coronavirus crisis which is set to cripple many local businesses, with closures and job losses looking increasingly likely.

The Informer of 15 April

Relatives and friends are vowing to give Whitianga icon, Dennis “Thunder” Dunn, the send-off he deserves when the community can once again gather together. Thunder passed away peacefully at his home in Coghill Street on Sunday, 5 April and was laid to rest in the Ferry Landing Cemetery. COVID-19 restrictions dictated that just two mourners and staff from Twentymans Funeral Directors could be present.

A Kuaotunu bach has recently won HOME magazine’s of Home of the Year Award for 2020. Designed by architect, Ken Crosson, for owners, Bob and Chris de Leeuw, “Light Mine” is quite the local landmark with its three distinctive turrets and beachfront location. Described as “a humble yet dramatic family bach,” the house represents a second title for Ken, whose own holiday home at nearby Otama was named Home of the Year in 2003 and Home of the Decade in 2010.

The Informer of 29 April

ANZAC Day on Saturday last week was different this year, but the COVID-19 lockdown didn’t deter many Whitianga residents to decorate their mailboxes with poppies and to “stand at down” in their driveways at 6:00am. Members of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade, dressed in their formal uniforms, were among those who paid their respects,

Census 2018 data recently released by Statistics New Zealand shows the Whitianga and Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach population grew by 1,086 from 4,407 permanent residents in 2013 to 5,493 in 2018. That is an increase of just under 25 per cent.

The Informer of 13 May

Whitianga Social Services has launched a new community initiative to help older people stay socially connected while keeping themselves safe as the Coromandel and New Zealand continues the fight against COVID-19. The Mercury Bay Pen Pal Club will pair up seniors who would like to receive mail with volunteers in the community who are willing to put pen to paper to revive the dying art of letter writing. While particularly aimed at seniors, the Pen Pal Club will be open to anyone who is housebound or feeling isolated.

The Informer of 20 May

The Coromandel has been named New Zealand’s most popular road trip, as Kiwis turn their minds towards travelling again under the COVID-19 Alert Level 2 restrictions. Breath-taking scenery, stunning beaches and historic towns - along with easy access from multiple North Island main centres - have put the Peninsula in the number one spot on a list of the country’s top 10 drives.

The Informer of 27 May

A group of brave Mercury Bay locals have been credited with saving the lives of two tourists who got into difficulty when swimming in extremely challenging conditions at Hot Water Beach last Friday morning. One of the men was around 200m from shore and struggling in a large rip when the alarm was raised at around 10:45am. His friend was about 100m out and also attempting to battle the current, while two other members of their group watched helpless from the beach. A team of local surfers began the dramatic rescue which eventually involved over a dozen people from the community.

As thousands of enthusiastic students returned to the classrooms across the Coromandel last week, teachers and principals have been praising the young people for their resilience and positive attitude. “We have been able to welcome all of our young people back and it is fantastic to see their smiles, hear their laughter, and engage in their rahui/lockdown stories,” said Mercury Bay Area School principal, John Wright. “Our young people are remarkable. We have all had the same experiences of lockdown - being away from our friends and loved ones - and our young people have come back incredibly positive.”

The Informer of 3 June

Well-known Wharekaho resident and Rangatira of Ngāti Hei, Joe Davis, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Joe received the award for his services to Māori and conservation. Joe represents Ngāti Hei on the Hauraki Māori Trust Board and is a treaty negotiator for Ngāti Hei and Ngāpuhi. He’s a member of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve Committee and served for three terms on Waikato Regional Council’s Coromandel Catchment Committee. He is trustee of the Mercury 250th Anniversary Trust and was responsible for organising last year’s Tuia 250 pōwhiri at Wharekaho.

Water hardship was a significant issue for many Coromandel residents earlier this year, with the Covid-19 lockdown compounding the problem even further. Thames-Coromandel District Council’s Emergency Management Unit has so far in 2020 supplied 1.6 million litres of water to just under 200 households, many of whom struggled to pay for water as drought-related restrictions pushed up costs.

The Informer of 10 June

A Coroglen family is coming to terms with a terrifying ordeal that saw flood waters completely destroy two holiday cottages on their rural property, forcing the evacuation of eight tourists, including three children. The devastating event occurred on the Saturday of Queen’s Birthday Weekend when, within the space of just 15 minutes, a tsunami of water from the nearby Kapowai River surged through their lifestyle property, Dragonfly Farm, smashing glass and furniture and leaving the cottages in utter ruin. The waterlines on the walls inside show the flood reached a height of 1.75m - four centimetres above the head of an average person.

The police have confirmed that gang rivalry was behind a series of violent incidents in Whitianga late last week, including the assault of two police officers. Three people were due to be charged in Hamilton District Court on Monday this week in relation to the attack on the police, with two members of the public credited for preventing further injury to the officers.

The Informer of 23 June

The Covid-19 lockdown was no detriment to the 25 ladies in the St Peter the Fisherman Anglican Church’s “Knit for a Purpose” group. When they’ve reunited recently for their first time together after two months of staying at home, the combined results of the ladies’ self-isolation were quite astonishing. Among the collection gathered for distribution to the Auckland-based Anglican Trust for Women and Children were 52 beanies, 65 jumpers and cardigans, 35 matching tops and beanies, 16 blankets and 14 pairs of booties.

The Informer of 7 July

Well-known Whitianga local, Ray Hewlett, found it difficult to hold back the tears when he was made a life member of the Lions Club of Whitianga. Ernie Pitchfork, the Whitianga Lions president, handed Ray his life membership certificate in the lounge of Whitianga Continuing Care, where Ray is now residing. Many Whitianga Lions and Whitianga Continuing Care residents were present to share the moment with Ray, who joined the Lions in 1988. “Ray was an outstanding Lion,” Ernie said. “He was always the first to volunteer, the first to arrive and the last to leave. His commitment and hard work put everyone else to shame.”

The revival of the Coromandel’s kiwi population has received a significant boost with the discovery of a new population of the bird in a previously uninhabited area of bush. Conservation groups working along the east coast of the Peninsula are celebrating the major success, after identifying at least two breeding pairs in an area of scenic reserve at Rings Beach between Matarangi and Kuaotunu. Representatives from Project Kiwi and the Rings Beach Wetland Group spent several consecutive nights in the reserve last month conducting audio monitoring for kiwi calls.

The Informer of 21 July

Assurances have been given that the process of establishing a new transfer station in Whitianga will be progressed without further delay after members of the Mercury Bay Community Board expressed frustration at the length of time the project is taking. Thames-Coromandel District Council’s Operations Group Manager, Bruce Hinson, confirmed that $200,000 of funding is in place to complete investigations and detailed design during the current financial year, with construction to be carried out in council’s 2021/2022 financial year. At a meeting of the Community Board earlier this month, Councillor Murray McClean said he also wanted to ensure that all options were being looked at so the new facility would be offering as many different collection streams as possible.

The Informer of 11 August

Renowned Otama artist, Michael Smither, and his partner, G’ian McGregor, have been welcomed as the new patrons of the He Mana Toi Moehau Trust/Creative Coromandel. Jan Wright, chair of the He Mana Toi Moehau Trust, says the organisation is thrilled to have them on board. “Not only is Michael one of the most accomplished artists in Aotearoa, but he and G’ian live and breathe the arts,” she says. “They have always been and continue to be staunch advocates of the arts, and their positive influence on emerging and established artists is astounding. We are absolutely honoured to have them as our patrons.”

“Fly high Bayden, travel well.” It was the final message from a spirited Tairua community for the ultimate nice guy who touched more hearts than he ever knew by simply being, in his dad’s words, a friend to everyone he met. Last Thursday, 13 August, under sunny blue skies, Bayden Joseph Glen Williams, son, brother, father, nephew and mate took one last ride around the neighbourhood he loved. For the seven days since their eldest boy had passed away, allegedly murdered on the Kōpū -Hikuai Road, the Williams family had been shrouded in an outpouring of love and support that they describe as both overwhelming and humbling.

It was not to be for the Mercury Bay Senior A rugby team in their McClinchy Cup home semi-final on Saturday last week against Whangamata. With a final score of 37 - 22, Whangamata will now face the Cobras from Te Aroha in the final. “Whangamata was an outstanding team on Saturday,” says Mercury Bay coach, Dwayne Mansell. “They played a very structured game. Our boys should hold their heads high, however. They’re a young team, 11 of them are under 22, and punched far above their weight this season. We’re already looking good for next year.”

The Informer of 25 August

Strategically positioned groynes that would promote the build-up of sand along a vulnerable section of Whitianga beachfront is one potential solution being put forward to urgently offset coastal erosion threating the survival of the Mercury Bay Boating Club clubhouse. Representatives of the club attended last week’s meeting of the Mercury Bay Community Board to plead for immediate assistance amid fears their clubhouse, located on the Buffalo Beach beachfront, is on the brink of falling into the sea. The Community Board members were asked to intervene without delay to find a solution.

The Informer of 1 September

A living tribute in the form of an orchard garden will be how the Te Rerenga school community will remember and commemorate their beloved former principal, Anna Yates, whose two-and-a-half-year fight against cancer came to an end on 19 August. The 43-year-old wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, renowned for her beaming smile, was farewelled at a Celebration of Life service streamed live from Crossroads Church in Whitianga on Monday last week to reach the many family, friends and colleagues unable to attend due to the COVID-19 Level 2 restrictions.

The Informer of 22 September

Despite the fact that the Mercury Bay Under 15 rugby team drew their Thames Valley final, 26 all, against Waihi College on Saturday last week, they are competition champions, both on paper and in the hearts and minds of their supporters. The game was played as part of the Thames Valley Rugby Union secondary school finals day in Waihi.

The Informer of 6 October

Support appears to be growing for a government-subsidised public bus service for Whitianga that would improve access to services and reduce isolation in particular for older residents and people with disabilities. Councillor Denis Tegg, the Thames-Coromandel representative on Waikato Regional Council, has been canvassing interest from communities around the Coromandel in relation to connector shuttles similar to the one that already operates in Thames. Mr Tegg outlined a proposal to members of the Mercury Bay Community Board which estimates the cost to Thames-Coromandel District Council would be approximately $44,000 a year, around $5 per ratepayer in the Mercury Bay ward.

The Informer of 13 October

One of the jewels in the Coromandel’s tourism crown, famous Hot Water Beach, has made it into Lonely Planet’s new “Ultimate Travel List” - a collection of the world’s most unmissable destinations. Hot Water Beach is one of 13 New Zealand locations to feature in the 500 strong line-up, coming in at the 261st spot, behind Lake Wanaka at 209 and the Waitomo Caves at 207, but ahead of Great Barrier Island, ranked 355, and Queenstown, which scraped in at 496.

Whitianga must bid farewell to the kauri tree that has graced the outside of the Mercury Bay Library at Soldiers Memorial Park for the past 25 years. The tree was originally planted at the Mercury Bay Bowling Club in 1945 and then relocated to its current site in 1996. However, Thames-Coromandel District Council says it has suffered extensive crown dieback and is showing very little recovery. The tree will be removed before the summer holiday period.

A decade of severe austerity has been signalled by Thames-Coromandel District Council as it anticipates a difficult post-COVID recovery period will compound an already challenging financial outlook. Council has adopted a “stalled rebuild scenario” in terms of its forecasting for the upcoming 2021 - 2013 Long Term Plan. “What this means is that any new services over the next 10 years will need to be adjusted downwards, or rates income upwards, in order to meet a balanced budget,” it said in a statement. “It also means we will be heavily restrained in every aspect of our operations in where money is spent.”

The Informer of 20 October

The Coromandel’s newly re-elected MP has credited his work over the past nine years and his strong relationships with constituents for saving his job in the face of the “red tide” that swept across New Zealand and left his staunchly blue constituency looking decidedly purple. For the first time since 2002, the Labour Party topped the party vote in the Coromandel electorate, attracting 43 per cent of voters, a massive jump from the 28 percent received three years ago. National took 34 percent, a seismic drop from its 51 percent share in 2017.

Community volunteers have been praised for their mammoth effort in saving the lives of more than 20 pilot whales who were successfully re-floated after becoming stranded at Colville Bay last weekend. Locals were first on the scene early on Saturday morning where around 25 whales had beached, with up to 15 more stranded in shallow waters. An estimated 200 people were involved in the physically and emotionally draining task of tending to the whales, keeping them cool and wet for more than 12 hours until high tide at 9:00pm. After successfully ushering the group back to sea, sadly overnight 19 of them split from the pod again and stranded on a nearby headland where they died. They were blessed by local iwi before burial.

The Informer of 17 November

Residents and holidaymakers enjoying all that the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula has to offer can rest easier knowing the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) will have a Westpac Rescue Helicopter and crew based at the hangar in Whitianga during the upcoming summer holidays. Last summer, a helicopter and crew were noticeably absent from the purpose-built Whitianga facilities, for the first time in 10 years. Northern Rescue Helicopter Limited CEO, Craig Gibbons, says. “We are therefore delighted to have worked through some logistical issues that will see the team back in Whitianga. At present, we are only able to have crew members rostered on in Whitianga during daytime hours throughout the month of January,” he says.

An emotional build-up turned to triumph for former Mercury Bay Area School student, Eloise Blackwell, as she captained the New Zealand Black Ferns to victory in their first game of the year. The 29-year-old lock was given the honour of leading the team for the first time having clocked up 43 caps since first pulling on the black jersey in 2011 against England.

The Informer of 24 November

It was an emotional moment when the fourth Van’s RV12 aeroplane built by a group of community mentors and senior Mercury Bay Area School students took to the skies for the first time at the Whitianga Airfield on Saturday last week. A large crowd witnessed the aeroplane’s maiden flight, which included two low passes along the length of the airfield’s main runway.

News that BNZ is to close its Coromandel Town branch leaving the community without any bank has been described as “devastating” by Councillor John Morrissey. The community’s elected representative on Thames-Coromandel District Council said it was very disappointing whenever a small rural town lost services. While accepting that the number of people using the branch had declined, he said it was still very important for some sectors of the community. “For businesses and in particular the elderly it will be a devastating loss,” he said. BNZ Coromandel Town will close sometime between April and July 2021, forcing residents to travel to either Whitianga or Thames to carry out banking tasks that cannot be done online.

The Informer of 15 December

Campervans will be banned from the Buffalo Beach waterfront in Whitianga under proposed changes to the Thames-Coromandel District’s freedom camping rules. The revised Freedom Camping Bylaw has just been released for public consultation, however any amendments will not come into effect until March next year. The decision to make Buffalo Beach Road a prohibited area was prompted by what Thames-Coromandel District Council describes as “significant access and health and safety issues.”

Witnesses to the large bush fire at Pumpkin Hill north of Tairua say the blaze was within just a few metres of several properties and have praised the actions of firefighters for saving people’s homes. Fourteen crews from across the Coromandel and beyond attended the fire which broke out just after 2:00pm with two helicopters also called in to assist from the air. It has prompted pleas to the public to be extra vigilant during what are already extremely hot and dry conditions.

The Informer of 22 December

The owners of Mercury Bay Medical Centre met with Leigh Hopper, the Whitianga Waterways developer, and his team, to discuss the preliminary design of the first stage of the planned new Mercury Bay medical facility. The facility will be developed at the northern side of Joan Gaskell Drive opposite the Whitianga Fire Station. Construction on stage one is scheduled to start early next year.

Many Opito Bay residents gathered on Thursday morning last week in support of Joe Davis, rangatira of Ngāti Hei, placing a “voluntary” rāhui on the gathering of scallops in the Opito Bay area. The rāhui is the direct result of a large group of Coromandel residents being concerned about the noticeable decline of scallop numbers on the eastern side of the Peninsula.

It was a dream come true for Gary Hinds, chairman of the Trust Waikato Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service, and his fellow committee members when the ribbon of the club’s new clubhouse was cut last Sunday. The 220m² building was funded through contributions from the government’s “shovel ready projects” fund and Trust Waikato, as well as a generous donation from Hot Water Beach’s Judge Family. “We’ve also received amazing support from local suppliers, including main builder, Laurie McMurtrie,” says Amy Hodge, club treasurer. “Wherever someone could give us a discount or supply something free of charge, they did so without us even having to ask.”

The Informer of 30 December

Christmas Eve, was the end of an era for Gordon Barnaby. After 23 years of delighting children of all ages, the lights of the “Whitianga Christmas House” were switched off and the doors closed for the last time. Every year those who enjoyed in the lights, Christmas trees and toys in the two weeks leading up to Christmas, were given the opportunity to make a donation into a “wishing well.” Over the years the Christmas House was in existence, Gordon and his late wife, Diana, collected more than $35,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Mercury Bay Day Camp.

After four years of campaigning, fundraising, planning and construction, the new Whitianga skatepark opened with a sausage sizzle and live music. The skatepark is located at Taylor’s Mistake. Excluding the half basketball court immediately adjacent to the park, it covers an area of approximately 720m². Landscaping around the skatepark still has to be completed and the Skatepark Trust are continuing to raise funds for lights to be installed at the park. The skatepark will formally be opened on Saturday, 9 January 2020.

Pictured: Hot Water Beach was included in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List published in 2020 - a collection of the world’s most unmissable destinations. Photo by The Coromandel/


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