Monday, 20 May 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

A new Whitianga ferryman

The iconic Stella B ferry boat that has provided inspiration to artists, delight to visitors and a reliable, though somewhat quaint, mode of transport to commuters in Whitianga for decades will be replaced in the coming year under the guidance of a new owner.

Fred Acke and partner Caroline are taking ownership this week of the Whitianga ferry business from Dave Pierrepont, who has owned the business for 40 years and will finally be able to enjoy a Christmas off.

"It’s a nice office and I’ve met a lot of people and made friends with them. The ferry brings people together," says Dave. "I would like to thank the people who have supported the ferry over the years.

"I’m looking forward to doing other things. We want to have the first Christmas with the family for 34 years. It’s like the Pony Express, it’s got to keep going no matter what, which has been a bit of a challenge sometimes with the weather."

Ferry users will see little immediate change to the service while Fred takes the helm during the silly season, but there are already plans afoot for a replacement 50 seat ferry for the Stella B over the next year.

As a trained boat builder, seaman on super yachts for 32 years and aficionado of coastal village character, Fred is intent on making improvements to safety, comfort, capacity and accessibility without compromising personality.

"Dave has run an excellent service and has great staff, so I would be a fool to wave a big stick and change anything straight away," he says. "I’ll watch how the business operates this summer and that will give me a lot of new ideas. Dave has got great ideas too and as we get into it we’ll bring a new boat online.

"We’ll come up with a great ferry. The size will be the biggest change as it will match the Mercury Star [the service’s other ferry]. At 46 years old the Stella B is getting a little old and small capacity-wise for the ever growing services in Whitianga. Having the three steps in and out makes it difficult for wheelchairs and bikes and in summer you can have 50-100 people waiting, so I want to speed that up and also increase the safety side of things with lifejackets on board."

Fares for casual ferry users will increase from $3 to $4 one way and $5 to $6 return and children’s fares will increase from $1.50 to $2 for one way and from $3 to $4 return. Concession passes will remain the same for now at $60 for 40 trips.

Thames Coromandel District Council owns, manages and maintains both the Ferry Landing and the Whitianga wharves and it was the Council’s decision to review the prices. "There is a cost to maintaining this infrastructure," says Mercury Bay Community Board chairman Paul Kelly. "And Whitianga ferry fares have not been reviewed and raised for some years."

As one of its current projects, TCDC has set aside $660,000 to restore the existing historic stone wharf at Ferry Landing by recovering old stone blocks from the sea floor beside the wharf. These will be used to rebuild the original stone steps and sections of a missing wall.

The wharf is classified as a Grade One structure by the Historic Places Trust and is need of restoration. A working group has been appointed for the project, which is in partnership with TCDC, the Historic Places Trust, iwi, the Institute of Engineers and the Mercury Bay community.

Fred is no stranger to coastal heritage, hailing from the Channel Islands off the coast of France. Before sailing away at age 16, he grew up in a place called Alderney, which he says is a three square mile island best described as, "1800 alcoholics clinging to a rock - and I think I’m the only person to escape since the war."

Fred has owned his house in Whitianga for four years and met Caroline here. He first sailed to New Zealand in an old sailing ship, the Anna Kristina.
"I came around the North Island in 1989 and on that tour of New Zealand, this is the honest truth, I always knew I would end up living here. Of all of the world that I have sailed, I think Mercury Bay is probably one of the best places to live."

He says Alderney is similar to Whitianga, which he now calls home. "It has a lot of the characteristics of where I grew up. A little ferry business in a small town surrounded by water."

Fred worked in the super yacht industry and lived in the Caribbean for 16 years before sailing to New Zealand on that first visit 25 years ago.

He wanted to buy Dave’s ferry business for three years and jokes, "The only way Dave could get rid of me was to sell me the business. It is about time he had a Christmas off. I wonder how many times he has crossed the harbour."

The ferry operates 365 days of the year with seasonal variations in times, currently crossing all day from 7:30am to 10:30pm with two one hour breaks between 6:30pm and 7:30pm and 8:30pm to 9:30pm.

It’s a service that has operated for over 100 years since its beginning in 1895. Many individuals rowed themselves and others across the river before a ferry service began. The service was first officially started by Neil Harris, who rowed people and livestock across the river for a fee.

Public asked to submit questions prior to proposed Cathedral Coast Walk meeting

Thames Coromandel District Council is now busy formalising the format of the public meeting  that will give an update on the proposed Cathedral Coast walk.

Everyone is invited to the meeting at the Hahei Community Hall on Saturday 29 November, from 10:00am until midday.  TCDC said Waikato Regional Council has also been invited along with Council staff and Mercury Bay Community Board members and councillors.

“This is a chance for us to share with everyone where we're at with the Walks project and to discuss parking issues around Hahei," says Garry Towler, TCDC’s spokesperson on the proposed walk. "We need to talk about the impact that increasing visitor numbers is having on Hahei and how we can best manage it short and long term.

Pre-prepared handouts will be available at the meeting and attendees will be able to take those away with them.

After presentations from Mr Towler and John Gaukrodger from the Department of Conservation, who will go through the proposed route the walk will follow, there will be a public question and answer session.

"We want to provide an opportunity to submit questions in advance so presenters can have time to prepare and have additional information with them on the day," says Mr Towler.

If you'd like to submit questions in advance, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The proposed walk is being developed in partnership with DOC and local iwi Ngati Hei. Stage 1A and 1B of the walk is approximately 10km in length from the iconic “blowhole” at Hahei’s Te Pupuha Recreation Reserve through to the Purangi Estuary at Cooks Beach. It takes in DOC estate, Council reserve and QE2 Trust land. A private section of land at Lees Rd is also being negotiated, which will help to provide additional car parking for anyone wanting to walk the route.

One of the next steps in the project will be finalising the names of a working group, made up of permanent Hahei residents, non-permanent residents, the Hahei Business Association and Coastal Walkways. This group will be the major forum through which the Hahei community and stakeholders can table views and issues and report back to the Project Governance Group, which is made up of TCDC, DOC and Ngati Hei.

TCDC parks team asks people to use common sense

Ahead of summer, the Thames Coromandel District Council parks team and contractors have been visually inspecting many of TCDC’s reserves for potential hazards that could cause serious harm.

Hazards include areas that drop off elevated paths onto beaches or trees on which locals have tied rope swings. It is not possible to eliminate all hazards, so TCDC ask people to use common sense and take personal responsibility wherever possible.

A recent area of concern has been holes in the ground caused by buried tree stumps which rot over time. Sites in Matarangi and Pauanui are regularly inspected for this because early development of original farmland saw stumps buried before current town plans were developed. Areas which may now be grassed parks can develop cavities not obvious above ground until an event such as a storm causes them to open.

It's challenging for the TCDC team, because there is often no evidence until the surface falls in, which may not be seen until someone trips or falls.

Even TCDC’s current inspection has limitations because they may have found an area clear of hazards only for one to appear a few days later, when the team are in another part of the vast Coromandel parks territory.

The Afternoon Academy at Tairua Library

Local artist Ryder Jones will bring creative mentorship to youth aged 11 and up through The Afternoon Academy, a series of art and creativity workshops at Tairua Library this month.

Having successfully offered The Afternoon Academy workshops in Auckland earlier this year, Ryder returns to his home territory of Tairua to provide a small group of youth with inspiration for implementing art and creativity into everyday life.

This introductory series of small-group workshops will run in co-operation with Tairua Library and Tairua Youth Group at no cost to the young people. There are three consecutive sessions on Thursday afternoons from 27 November until 11 December. The workshops explore a range of creative activities, including sand-casting and rock-stacking, book-binding and pasta-making.

Tairua Community Librarian Emma Darragh will be on-hand to support participants of The Afternoon Academy. She says, “I am delighted the library has the opportunity to host Ryder's Afternoon Academy. He is a champion of youth and creativity and he inspired youth as special guest at The Wonder Programme Finale at Tairua Library earlier this year. This is a terrific opportunity for youth to discover art through play, nature and everyday activity.” 

In order to offer maximum value, participant numbers are strictly limited, and attendance is required at all three sessions. Priority will be given to attendees of Tairua Youth Group.

Please contact Emma at Tairua Library to register your interest on 07 864 7960 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A new team to take the Multi Sport Park forward

The Mercury Bay Recreation Trust has several new trustees and they are positive that they can grow usage of the Mercury Bay Multi Sport Park - starting with the all-important priority of fields that will be usable winter next year.

The project had a $1.4 million overspend in 2012 and since then problems with drainage that have prevented regular use of the fields by sports teams in winter.

When new Trust chairman Bill McLean (also deputy chairman of the Mercury Bay Community Board) talks about his decision to get involved in a facility dogged with controversy, he begins with an explanation of another complex local problem that has faced Whitianga and which he believes has become a political football.

"For over 30 years coastal erosion has been occurring on our foreshores. There’s been report after report that is too technical for people to understand, so they shelve them. I don’t think that’s the way to solve problems. I’ve become involved in the Trust because I want to see the Sport Park living up to its potential.

"I see the Sport Park as potentially another coastal erosion issue if people don’t take care of it. The trustees of the trust are an excellent team - Community Board members like me, we have the chairman of the Mercury Bay Business Association, people who have been on the Community Board in the past, people with engineering backgrounds, people with building backgrounds. And helping us is Sue Costello [Thames Coromandel District Council’s Sport Park coordinator] who will be there for getting things sorted out. And we’re all on the same page."

Mr McLean says one key action is keeping all those with a keen interest in the facility "up with the play" through regular communication.

"A key focus for the Trust is ensuring users of the Sport Park are willing to talk through their ideas and keep their requests reasonable.

"We have identified a list of projects for implementation over the next ten years although, obviously, not all have the same priority. The best and simplest way the different sporting codes can assist the Trust is by talking to us. But remember, the Trust’s role is to facilitate, not create. Our direction is driven by the users of the facility. If each sporting code or other interest group can tell us what they need and we all agree it’s reasonable, then we will work together to achieve our goals."

The Sport Park has five international size playing fields for rugby, rugby league and football. Earlier this year TCDC brought in the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute to try and find out why the fields weren’t draining properly and provide options to rectify the problem.

From January to April next year TCDC will undertake a process on one of the fields which will allow water to filter through the turf and reach drains that run right through the playing area. This work will be monitored, with the aim of treating all fields over the next five years. Funding for the work to be done next year has been approved by the Mercury Bay Community Board.

Finding or raising money for any further drainage works will not be the job of the Trust.

According to its deed, the Trust’s goals are to benefit the wider community of Mercury Bay in the promotion, provision, development, construction, management and maintenance of social, cultural, educational, recreation and leisure facilities in the area.

Getting the grassed playing fields at the Sport Park usable is the Trust’s top priority, but it is not the trustees’ direct responsibility. That responsibility belongs to TCDC.

"Part of the Trust’s management of all parks is to ensure their condition is suitable for whatever activity is planned. Where concerns are found, Council will be advised and appropriate action will be taken," says Mr McLean.

The Trust’s top five priorities for the Sport Park are -

  1. Get the grassed playing fields up and usable - TCDC responsibility.
  2. Netball courts flood lighting - jointly by the Trust/Codes/Sponsors/Community.
  3. Provide a form of function facilities - jointly by the Trust/TCDC/Codes/Sponsors/Community.
  4. Car park lighting - TCDC.
  5. Grassed playing fields flood lighting - jointly by the Trust/Codes/Sponsors/Community.

When it comes to the other projects on the wish list so far, and others that may be suggested by sport codes or other groups, the Trust will not be reliant solely on ratepayers to foot the bill. Just last week Mrs Costello secured a grant from Pub Charity which will be used to provide new rugby posts at the facility.

Mr McLean says irrespective of each project’s priority, the Trust will determine who pays for each project so that appropriate responsibilities can be allocated to TCDC, the Trust, sporting and other entities, sponsors and of course the community at large.

"It is not widely known that the Trust’s responsibility is for all Council owned sport and recreation facilities in Mercury Bay, most of which are already developed and in use. The Sport Park is a work in progress and is therefore the primary focus of the Trust’s attention. The Trust’s role includes fundraising, management, promotion and further development to meet its objectives."

The Trust is busy developing and reviewing policies with regard to sponsorship, signage, event hireage and concessions to ensure standardisation throughout the Mercury Bay area. It’s hoped the policies will encourage local sponsorship and signage opportunities and allow the Trust to seek major sponsorships for park facilities.

Junior, collegiate and senior netball teams use the Sport Park at the moment and Mrs Costello says last week saw two new sporting codes, the Whitianga Touch Association and the Mercury Bay Junior Cricket Club, starting to use the facility. The Trust is fully of the intention to add to the number of users.

There is interest in the facility from outside of the Coromandel, including from Auckland Rugby League, which helps keep the focus positive.

"We are working to market the Sport Park and this area for team training camps, regional tournaments and events. We thank all the sporting codes for supporting the facility and everyone's patience and understanding during the turf embedding process in our first year of operation," says Mrs Costello.

The trustees of the Trust, in addition to Mr McLean, are Wayne Malcolm (involved in the building industry), Gary Fitzsimons (tourism and transport operator and chairman of the Mercury Bay Business Association), Shelly Balsom (horse trekking operator and Ngati Hei member), Sheree Webster (tourism and accommodation provider), Deli Connell (education consultant and Mercury Bay Community Board member), Kiri Moore (BNZ employee and involved in multi-sport events) and Mike Brown (retired consulting engineer).

Coroglen Saleyards now a public reserve

The Old Coroglen Saleyards has been rejuvenated into a public picnic reserve thanks to a joint initiative between Thames Coromandel District Council and the Coroglen Community.

For more than 50 years the Coroglen Saleyards was a hub for people to gather, sell and buy farm stock and catch up on the local gossip. When PGG Wrightson decided to close the Saleyards earlier this year, TCDC managed to purchase two of the three parcels of land for $50,000, paid for by money set aside in their Annual Plan for maintenance and development costs

With help from a working committee, made up of Coroglen community members, TCDC staff and members of the Mercury Bay Community Board, the transformation of land from Saleyards to public reserve is now almost complete.

Land has been re-contoured and landscaped with bollards installed. One of the old loading ramps and one holding pen have also been retained. Interpretative signage will be installed beside it by the pen and areas around the reserve, to let people know about the historical significance of the Saleyards.

The old kitchen building and office huts have also been retained and are currently being converted into a "Sunny Dunny," eco-toilet along with a separate changing room, in time for public to use in summer. Picnic tables and rubbish bins will also be installed in time for summer.

"I look at what the local Coroglen community has done out there, and what a fantastic entranceway the Coroglen Reserve now is to Whitianga," says TCDC mayor Glenn Leach. "Families can now picnic on the banks of the Waiwawa River and there's a water hole that could be one of the best on the Coromandel.

"We know this area has always been a special place in Coromandel's farming history and also a huge part of the Coroglen community. This project typifies what we are trying to achieve with community empowerment. I want to congratulate and thank everyone for what has been achieved out there."

"It's been a great success," confirms Mercury Bay Community Board chair Paul Kelly. "The local input has been phenomenal and I want to thank Heather McPhee and everyone at Coroglen for their input."

New property CVs out next week

Thames Coromandel District ratepayers will start to receive the new Council Values (CVs) of their properties from next week. People will have until close of business on 24 December to challenge the results.

Thames Coromandel District Council said they will mail the valuation notices to ratepayers on 19 November.

Anyone can object to a property value, not only the property owner.

Like previous years, TCDC used Quotable Value for this round of valuations.  Quotable Value used a “mass-appraisal” method, looking at sales and trends in specific areas, building consent statistics and significant changes like subdivisions. Their process is independently audited by the office of the Auditor-General. A ratepayer is given the opportunity to object to the CV of their property as Quotable Value may not have been aware of improvements to the property, eg a new kitchen.

TCDC uses CVs to determine the rates payable by property owners and CVs also play an important (although informal) role when sellers determine how much to list a property of and buyers determine how much they are willing to pay for a property.

CVs are updated every three years.

Watching a movie for a can of food in Whitianga

Mercury Twin Cinemas in Whitianga is participating this year in the Wattie’s Cans Film Festival. Movie goers around the country will be swapping cans of food for tickets to see a blockbuster film this Wednesday 12 November.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be screening in Whitianga at 7:00pm, but, said Glen Parker, owner of Mercury Twin Cinemas, be early as it’s one screening only at the admission price of a can of food. Yes, if you want to see the movie, all you have to pay is a can of food.

The Festival is this year celebrating its 21st anniversary of helping New Zealanders through donations of cans for The Salvation Army’s food banks. Wattie’s then matches each can donated at the Festival bringing the total to over 20,000 cans each year.

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