Monday, 16 December 2019


News from the Whitianga Bike Park

Ray Hewlett, one of the founders and keepers of the Whitianga Bike Park, talks about the park.

After a less than warm and sunny holiday period it was good to see members of the public still able to make use of the cycle tracks and jumps at the Whitianga Bike Park when a few hours of fine weather presented itself.

Whilst we can’t get away from a bit of mud here and there, it’s great to see families having fun together - if not cycling, then enjoying the bush walks, petonque, frisbee golf and other entertainment areas that have been created.

It is a big job keeping up with presenting the different aspects of the park to the best of our abilities. Noel Hewlett (my brother) and I take pleasure in doing so, but when there’s storm damage, ti-tree and other obstructions being blown across the tracks, extra hours are required to clean up and we run out of time and energy. We appreciate help from every source we can get and many members of the community, when they had time to spare, helped in building some tracks and bridges, carting shells and levelling rough areas. This enables us to mow and improve the flowerbeds, etc. We know that they take pride in their work.

We would like to think there are more volunteers who may be able to give some time to help maintain the Bike Park’s standards and I am sure that those who have come to see it will agree it is an enjoyable place to be. The Lions Club arboretum of native trees is a special place to walk around, as is the stand of kauri trees.

We would like to thank those businesses and organisations that have helped in any way to keep the Park looking good. While some folk may think that being a Council-owned property we are getting a lot of input from them financially for maintenance, it is only the donation box that helps the facility to continue and to be available to the public free of charge.

All help and donations are much appreciated.

A local travel agent for 20 years

This is Jody Simpson’s 20th year with Monett Johnston who owns United Travel in Whitianga. It’s 20 years that have seen a lot of changes in the travel industry.

We caught up with Jody and Monett about experiences in the years they’ve been working together.

"I grew up in Paeroa and studied travel for two years in Hamilton," said Jody. "I then worked in travel wholesale in Auckland for two years, but really wanted to do retail. I wanted to be at the coal face, working with customers. The problem was that it was really difficult getting a job with a travel agency without experience. But Monett was happy to give me a chance. When I arrived in Whitianga, it was only the two of us. She taught me everything I know.

"In fact, I was here only three months and off she went on an educational trip to South Africa for a few weeks. Talk about being in at the deep end."

That was the time when computers slowly moved into fashion and the internet, as it’s being used today, was only a pipe dream. "We used to get all these thick books from the airlines with their fares in them," said Monett. We had to calculate exactly what a client would pay on every segment of their journey and add it all up. And if we got it wrong, we had to pay the difference.

"The first computerised system we could use was called MAARS. It did away with all those thick books. Then, of course, came the internet and that made the MAARS system look very old. The internet gave us a lot of freedom. With the push of a few buttons we can now see what all the airlines have to offer."

An important part of a travel agent’s job is gaining first-hand experience of the places and attractions they recommend to their clients. "I send each of the people working for me on at least one educational trip per year," said Monett. "That’s in addition to a lot of online learning we all do. The personal touch, I think, is why people will always continue to use travel agencies. We know and can recommend things you’ll never find on the internet."

Jody has travelled to more than 40 countries to date. Her favourites are Sri Lanka and the Greek Islands. "Sri Lanka is just so different," she said. "The people are lovely and the culture so interesting. In Greece the lifestyle is laidback and the sunshine is endless.

"And I’ve been to the Dubai recently, where I stayed in the $1,000 a night Armani Hotel. It was a pretty neat experience too."

There were many stand out incidents. "There are two I specifically remember," said Jody. "Once on a cruise ship, as I was about to go up a set of stairs,
this man came to me and asked, ‘Are these stairs going up?’ I was speechless.

"And then there was this family from Australia who holidayed in Matarangi a few summers ago when it was raining a lot. They just walked into the office one day and said they want some sunshine. Four days later they were on a plane to Florida. They wanted to fly in the best way possible and stay in the best hotels I could find. Believe it or not, just like that they spent $40,000."

Jody said her ideal holiday right now will be a cruise from Hawaii to Tahiti and New Zealand with her six year old daughter. "But when my daughter is older, an African safari is the one thing we’ll definitely do." And then she started to explain why, revealing all these secrets only travel agents know. Things you’ll never find on the internet.

Z Nail Gang to premiere in Whitianga

Z Nail Gang, the movie based on the successful Kuaotunu anti-mining protests in the 80’s will premiere in Whitianga next week Thursday, 14 August. 

It’s the story of a New Zealand Coastal town community living peacefully on the sheltered side of a treasured mountain and enjoying life at a leisurely pace. It all comes to an abrupt end, though, when a multi-national corporation announces that they’re going to explore for gold. The tightly-woven community is torn between those who welcome the promise of prosperity and those who are opposed to the mining of their mountain. One thing is for sure, unless they can come together as a unified front, they'll lose what's most precious to them - their community and the land it dwells on.

The movie seamlessly weaves heart-warming characters into a community and environmental themes into a comedy, all the way through portraying a single message - some things really are worth more than gold. Prominent in the story is a family similar to that of Mercury Bay locals Mark Tugendhaft and Nedilka Radojkovich and their boys Brani and Stefan, who were deeply involved in the Kuaotunu protests.

The movie was directed and produced by Anton Steel and Kylie DellaBarca-Steel from the Bay of Plenty. Anton is friends with Brani and started thinking about the movie when Brani told him about the protests on a drive to the Central North Island ski-fields about five years ago.

 The world premiere of Z Nail Gang took place on Thursday 31 July in Te Puke.

Mark said the movie is a perfect portrayal of their battle. “But people need to remember Kuaotunu was only one of a number of Coromandel communities that took on big business,” he said. “It’s because of the Coromandel that mining was kept out of our national parks and off the conservation estate. Let’s just hope that our good work will never be undone.

“The movie is sweet and sour. It’s funny and touching. My only criticism is that the actor who plays me is far more polite than what I was.” 

Reviews the movie has received to date include, “Moving, inspirational, funny,” “Staunch kiwiana, fun and strong, very cool,” “Thought provoking,” “A great home-grown movie, with current storyline and great humour as well.”

The movie will screen on Thursday in both theatres of Mercury Twin Cinemas in Whitianga. The doors will open at 5:30pm, with the VIP guests, including many of the people pivotal in the Kuaotunu protests, arriving at 6:00pm.

Salt Restaurant and Bar and New World Whitianga will be putting on “a free drink and nibbles” afterwards.     

The premiere will be a formal affair, an opportunity to dress up. Tickets cost $25 each and are available from The Lost Spring Information Centre in Whitianga, Kuaotunu Store and Luke’s Kitchen in Kuaotunu.  Z Nail gang is scheduled to screen to the public in Whitianga, so if you can’t make it to the premiere, make sure you catch it soon after. After all, it’s a movie about gold in the hearts of a Mercury Bay community.

Grahams Creek working party sets project principles

A multi-stakeholder working group set up to help manage ongoing flooding issues at Graham’s Creek in the Tairua area has established a set of project principles, including looking to achieve minimum cost.

The working group is made up of technical staff from Waikato Regional Council and Thames Coromandel District Council, regional councillors Stuart Husband and Clyde Graf and Tairua-Pauanui Community Board chairman Bob Renton, as well as six landowner representatives.

Besides looking to achieve minimum cost, a group workshop held recently decided that principles that would guide decision-making include -

  • The need to meet timeframes for council funding and agreements.
  • Achieving the highest level of flood protection for the greatest number of properties possible, that is cost effective and technically viable.
  • Providing for aesthetic values as much as possible.
  • Maximising ecological enhancement opportunities.
  • Taking an integrated catchment approach to the issues.
  • Providing for future planning and needs.
  • Being acceptable to the floodway landowner.

Meanwhile, TCDC is currently looking at design options for the causeway as part of the flood management approach and will have these reviewed by an independent engineer.

Mr Graf said input into the working group from local representatives was vital and valuable.

“Some great ideas for making this a project more than just ‘plain old stop banks’ will hopefully add features and solutions that don't end up being an eye-sore,” he said. 

“A guided walk by Derek Boyd around the creek and floodplain with the working group had helped focus ideas on ways to try to reduce the cost of the project, with local knowledge paying dividends. This is a project that may not be music to everyone's ears, but we are doing our best to try to produce a tune that can resonate with most.”

The working group’s establishment follows WRC’s decision to budget up to $600,000 for flood protection works this financial year and TCDC’s commitment in its 2014-2015 Annual Plan to upgrade the Manaia Road causeway bridge. One of the conditions attached to the funding is that a joint working group refines and confirms the works programme.

TCDC to hold rates rebate clinics

Thames Coromandel District Council is now taking applications for the 2014/2015 rates rebate year.

The TCDC Tairua-Pauanui office is holding two rates rebates clinics for anyone needing help applying or processing their rates rebate applications. The application form  can be downloaded from here or can be picked up from any of the TCDC offices. The closing date for applications is 30 June 2015.

The Rates Rebates Clinics are on -

Thursday 14 August 2014
9:30 am - 11:30 am
Pauanui Library

Thursday,14 August 2014
1:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Tairua Library, 2 Manaia Road

The Rates Rebate Scheme was established in 1973 to provide assistance to low-income homeowners on the cost of their rates. The Government increased the rates rebate thresholds for the 2014/15 rating year following a review that was recently completed.

The following changes came into effect from 1 July 2014 -

  • Maximum rebate has increased from $595 to $605.
  • Income threshold has increased from $23,870 to $24,250.

The additional income allowance for dependants will remain at $500 per dependant.

This means the income threshold for a full rates rebate for the 2014/15 year is $24,250 and is increased by $500 for each dependant in the household.

Although a ratepayer's income might exceed the income threshold, a rates rebate could still be available, depending on the rates amount and number of dependants.

The story of Lyon Park

In The Informer of 22 July 2014, Craig Fussy, a Whitianga resident for many years, expressed his concern about the possible intention of Thames Coromandel District Council to use Lyon Park during the summer months for overflow trailer boat parking.

Craig’s piece generated some reaction, including comments from Karen Campbell and a cartoon from Peter Grant, both long-time Whitianga residents with detailed knowledge of the history of Lyon Park. Both of them are supportive of Craig’s view that the park should never be used for parking of any kind.

We spoke to Karen and Peter about the history of Lyon Park.

It all began in February 1939 when the Mercury Bay Centennial Committee was formed to find a piece of land in Whitianga big enough for all types of sport to be played on in celebration of the centenary of the Dominion of New Zealand.

The committee first looked at a property near the old dairy factory (now the Mercury Bay Museum), but that was too expensive. At their fourth meeting on 2 June 1939, the committee discussed a 1.678ha waterfront property owned by Thomas Lyon next to the tennis courts.

Mr Lyon was a farmer, secretary of the Mercury Bay Dairy Company, lay preacher and actively involved in community affairs.

The minutes of the committee’s following meeting on 23 June 1939 read, "Mr Morrison [a committee member] proposed that Mr Lyon be given heartfelt thanks for the gift of the land."

As it turned out, Mr Lyon had indeed decided to gift the waterfront property to the people of Mercury Bay, not only as part of the New Zealand centennial celebrations, but also in memory of his deceased daughter Isabella (or "Belle" as she was more commonly known). The deed of gift was signed on 20 April 1940 and in its preamble it said, "Whereas the donor (as a public spirited resident of Whitianga), to provide facilities for recreation and sports and advance the welfare of the community and for the further purpose of commemorating his deceased daughter, has executed a Memorandum of Transfer…"

The land was named "The Mercury Bay Centennial and Lyon Park" and was administered by the then Coromandel County Council, who appointed the Centennial Committee to look after the park.

The land had a deep drain running through it and was full of flax and it was clear to all that a great fundraising and volunteer effort was going to be needed to get the land to such a state that it could be used for sporting activities.

World War II prevented anything to be done, however, as everyone put their energy into New Zealand’s effort in the war.

In 1947 the Centennial Committee reconvened and work to transform Lyon Park into a proper sporting facility started. It was a major volunteer effort from the entire community. In addition to the raising of money, many volunteers helped to pipe the drain, fence the park, grade and level the playing field and sort out adjacent drainage issues. April 1948 was a big month when the first order for 75lbs of grass seed and 5lbs of white clover was placed.

In the years that followed the community raised more money and volunteered many more hours to build buildings and a memorial gate and to maintain the park.

The Mercury Bay Tennis Club transferred the 1,467m² of land the tennis courts are on to the County Council in 1960.That was done on condition that, in the words of Amy Lee, a life member of the club, "… the Tennis Club continue to have free use of the land, providing the Tennis Club at their cost maintain and keep the facility in good condition."

With the transfer of the tennis court land competed, the park became known as Lyon Park.

In 1966, after 27 years of hard work to turn a rough piece of land into what Lyon Park is today, the Centennial Committee disbanded and the County Council took over the administration of the park.

In later years a lease for the park was signed with the Mercury Bay Rugby and Sports Club. That was followed by negotiations to transfer that part of the park closest to the water to the Whitianga Marina Society to, according to the minutes of a Mercury Bay Community Board meeting in 1991, "… hold some 100 cars which can cater for associated marina parking in peak times, leaving this available for the Mercury Bay Rugby & Sports Club during their sports season. The benefit of a green area was felt to be substantial."

According to Mr Fussey, this area of car parking is now the access way to the Whitianga Coastguard shed.

At the same Community Board meeting, the following was resolved, "That the Mercury Bay Community Board confirm that it will retain no less than that area of Lyon Park occupied by the Rugby Club and used as a sports field as public open space for recreational use, in perpetuity."

The Rugby Club lease is up for renewal and, according to Sam Marshall, Mercury Bay Area Office manager of Thames Coromandel District Council, one of the points of negotiation is the possibility of Lyon Park to be used "… as temporary trailer boat parking over peak periods as demand for marine facility infrastructure grows." Mr Marshall also added that, "The area is zoned reserve and there is strong regulation around what can be done on a public reserve. Lyon Park is a green belt and will remain so now and in the future."

Craig, Karen and Peter are of the view that parking of any kind that’s not related to activities on Lyon Park will be in breach of the deed of gift Mr Lyon signed in 1940. They’re also concerned that once the door for temporary parking is open, there won’t be turning back and Lyon park will eventually become a permanent car park.

There are all kinds of questions here. Can TCDC insist on the Rugby Club agreeing to a "trailer boat parking" clause before they sign a new lease?
Is parking on Lyon Park in line with Mr Lyon’s wishes? Is Craig, Karen and Peter’s concern about a permanent car park justified?

We’ll keep an eye on things. In the meantime, let us know what you think. Vote in our online poll at or email or Facebook us or send us a letter.

Man on charges after Coroglen incident yesterday

According to a press release issued by the New Zealand Police earlier today, a property in Coroglen remains cordoned off today as Waikato Police conduct a scene examination following an armed incident yesterday. Detective Sergeant Martyn Hughes of the Thames-Coromandel CIB said the Tapu Road property located close to The Coroglen Tavern is currently being forensically examined by Police staff. "In addition, a vehicle involved in the incident is also being examined, while a male from the property is currently being interviewed and our investigators are conducting an area canvas of local residents."

Two men were arrested during the incident which unfolded shortly after 3:00pm. One was released overnight without charge while a 41-year-old man has been charged with an earlier aggravated robbery and will appear in the Hamilton District Court today. Mr Hughes said it may be several days before the Police are able to confirm just what occurred yesterday.

"We can confirm a number of shots were fired during the incident though no one was injured. Local Police staff established cordons in and around the area and awaited the arrival by helicopter from Hamilton of members of the Waikato Armed Offenders Squad.

“We are grateful for the support of the other emergency services and the local community and thankful the matter was resolved without further incident."

Community meals - an open letter to the people of Whitianga from St Andrews by the Sea Community Church

The small congregation based at St Andrew’s by the Sea Community Church has a large community vision. Eleven years ago they called the current minister to lead them in community ministry. Throughout those years the parish has indeed focused on community ministry and connects with a wide range of people, both through activities led by the minister and through various activities that others are involved in as well.

There is a thriving Mainly Music weekly for pre-school families, Messy Church once a month for families with children of all ages, a Film and Friendship Club monthly, two Upright and Active sessions each week and an Op Shop open three days a week.

In the April school holidays each year, with enormous help from the community, the minister directs a three day outdoor adventure Day Camp for 300 children ages 6 - 13 and trains teen leaders to assist with this. At the 2014 camp there were 65 teen leaders and about 100 adults helping in some way to make camp happen. The minister is also the RSA Chaplain and the de facto chaplain of Whitianga Continuing Care as well.

At a Parish Vision Day on 11 May 2013 a man who was homeless at the time was present and he talked about the "invisible people" in the community, the homeless and the transients, who needed food. Others thought about the lonely and elderly and the families really struggling to make ends meet and feed their children nutritious meals. A vision was born - of providing a community meal once a week, to give lonely people an opportunity to eat with others, of delivering meals to those who could not come and encouraging those who could to come and eat together.

To the casual visitor, Whitianga looks prosperous. As one drives into the town, past the airport with a number of small private planes parked up and through the Waterways development where expensive homes and boats are very visible, it seems like this place is going ahead - and it is in many ways. Yet there is an "invisible underclass" of struggling people - elderly who have always lived here or came to retire and now cannot afford to move, young families who came for a job - builder, electrician, plumber or in forestry or the fish factory, but the job finished or became casual or part time and they cannot afford to move and there are no other jobs for them. There are solo parents who came as a couple, but the marriage or partnership failed and the parent with the children is stuck in a place with no family support and no possibility of work and an inability to afford to move elsewhere.

We decided that if we were going to offer a community meal for those who needed it, we might as well start straight away - on a Monday, the day before benefits were paid, when people had often run out of money. So the first meal was provided on Monday 13 May 2013. Ten people came to eat together that first day and more meals were delivered. Numbers kept growing. On Monday 1 July 2013 more than 100 people were fed. By October, the numbers had grown to 150 and seem to be climbing again now, in July 2014, to closer to 200 each week. A meal has been provided every Monday, including all through the Christmas and January holidays - so we are now well into the second year.

Initially all the food was provided by the church community or paid for out of church funds. The second week we paid for an advertisement in two local papers, inviting people to come and also inviting donations of food, time and money. The community responded - some businesses gave seed funding, individuals made regular contributions, others gave their time to help or vegetables from their garden, some of the other churches in our community supported us with funds and food and a freezer. The local papers kept advertising the meals, but did not charge us for that ongoing advertising. The "homeless man" who shared the vision in the first place has turned a large part of the manse garden into a community garden which supplies vegetables every week for the community meal, as well as to many families during the week.

Over the 14 months we have now been doing this, there has been more than 50 volunteers at different times who have helped prepare the food, cook it, package up the deliveries, deliver meals, serve those who come to St Andrews to eat and clean up afterwards. Many of them are people who came initially for a meal for themselves, but now come to serve others too.

There have also been other "spin-offs" as we get to know a wider and wider group of people - supporting families with clothing, bedding, toys and food parcels, going with people to WINZ appointments as advocates and support, helping people complete forms, providing emotional as well as practical support and much more involvement in the lives of struggling people in our community.

The costs for the meals for the first year were over $12,000, so roughly $1,000 per month. Initial gifts helped us to make a start and keep going but, although there are still a few people continuing to make regular donations, the funding is not secure and has really become a weekly concern. Will there be enough to pay for next week’s meat?

As the numbers increase, so do the costs. Maybe there is someone who might like to make a donation to support this project - whether that is a one off donation or a regular one? We will be very grateful for whatever is offered to support the vulnerable in our community.

The church received a Thames Coromandel Council grant last December to help pay the costs of keeping our building open for community projects - for such things as repairs to kitchen equipment, compliance with fire and kitchen regulations, purchase of consumable items such as paper towels and cleaning resources. The church is just managing to pay the extra power costs involved in using our kitchen all day every Monday and running an extra freezer. We have applied for Community Waikato funding, but do not yet know whether that will be approved. We are continuing to explore where else we might be able to look for funding. The church is really stretched to cope with any more costs.

Although donations of food keep coming in each week, including, occasionally, wild pork hunted down by members of one of the other churches, we need security of ongoing funding to enable this project to continue. It is making a difference in the lives of so many people. Some just need help for a little while and then tell us they can manage again by themselves. Others ask for a meal just for a particular week when a high power bill or a doctor’s account has taken all their food money.

Many of those who really appreciate a nutritious meal provided for their family are not on benefits, but have fluctuating part time work. When there is no work or their hours are cut, they are very vulnerable and children go hungry.

We would like to be able to continue knowing that we can provide a meal every week for whoever needs it. Volunteers from our church and the other churches and the community give very generously of their time and resources. We are very grateful for all those who help in any way.

If you would like to volunteer or help in some way, please contact Mary Petersen - text to 027 244 8396, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or leave a message on the church phone (07) 867 1102.


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