Monday, 17 February 2020


National to introduce recreational fishing park in Hauraki Gulf

The National Party announced over the weekend that they, if re-elected, will introduce two recreational fishing parks covering areas of the inner Hauraki Gulf and the Marlborough Sounds.

Dr Nick Smith, Conservation Spokesman, said, “This is a first for New Zealand. It’s about recognising some fishing areas are worth more to New Zealanders for their recreational than their commercial value and we want to preserve those areas for the tens of thousands of Kiwis who use them every summer.

“Commercial fishers currently operating in these areas will be fairly compensated and a new law will provide for a range of marine-protected areas from no-take marine reserves, the new recreational fishing parks, species-specific sanctuaries and seabed reserves.

“The announcement follows from our earlier commitment to protect our most precious ocean areas with ten new marine reserves.

"I want New Zealand to be a world-leader in the responsible use, management, and conservation of our oceans.”

As can be seen from the outline above, the proposed Hauraki Gulf recreational fishing park will not be bordering the eastern seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula.

The Mercury Bay local who built a business with brushes and pots of paint

"I was born at an early age," said Charles Russell from Whitianga Signs in his bone-dry way.

Charles has to be one of Mercury Bay’s most interesting residents. "My dad was English, my mum Austrian," he continued talking about his birth. "They met just after the Second World War in Vienna, where I arrived in 1946. Five years later my parents moved to England and I tagged along."

Charles stayed in England until the age of 24. After school he obtained a Diploma in Graphic Design, but that wasn’t his biggest achievement before he came to New Zealand at age 24. "I taught myself to play the guitar and mouth organ, but at school I learnt to play the violin and trumpet," he explained. "While studying at the Portsmouth College of Art, a few of us formed the Portsmouth Philharmonia. I was one of only a few who knew something about music, but despite that, we received a prestigious invitation to play at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We were terrible. That didn’t deter us, though. We even made a record. I still cringe when I listen to that. I’m sure we got the invitation to London on our name. It shows you, there’s indeed something in a name."

Charles moved to New Zealand because he was curious. "I just wanted to see the South Pacific," he said.

Charles spent his first ten years in New Zealand in Auckland working in the retail industry as a page designer and building a 36ft steel yacht. He came to Whitianga for the first time on a diving trip and after a few more trips was given an offer to become the skipper of a charter boat that still had to be built. He accepted and back in Auckland, he loaded all his earthly possessions on his boat and arrived permanently in Whitianga in 1980.

"And of course the charter boat I was supposed to skipper was then never built," said Charles. "That was a bit of a predicament, so I started signwriting. I lived on the boat and worked from whatever shed I could find. It was the days before computers and scanners. Pots of paint and brushes were the way to go. Despite my best intentions not to make it happen, the business grew and it really became time to move to shore."

So, after nine years on the waters of Mercury Bay, Charles sold his boat and bought a place on South Highway in Whitianga. When he wasn’t signwriting, he painted proper artwork and learnt to fly aeroplanes. "One day I was outside and this rag and tube plane came over very low a few times. I thought the pilot was taunting me and I longed to shoot him down," he said.

"I went to Mercury Bay Aero Club and Owen Whiting, the resident instructor, lured me into the Bantam they had for people who wanted to learn to fly. From the beginning, I really enjoyed flying and just kept going." Charles is today rated to fly a variety of aircraft of all different sizes.

When Coromandel Flying Club bought a Tecnam Microlight, Charles was their first choice when they had to ask someone to become the instructor. That was more than twelve years ago and Charles took to the task with gusto. "I now have more than 850 hours teaching in microlights," he said. "And I still enjoy every moment in the air."

In fact, Charles so much enjoys teaching others how to fly, he doesn’t charge for his services. "No, he said. Students pay for the plane and I fly with them. I love it."

Not surprisingly the funniest experience Charles ever had, according to him, involved the sky. "Five years ago I had the opportunity to go to the Oshkosh Air Show in the US. This bunch of parachutists jumped out of a DC3 aeroplane, holding a huge US flag. Now I’ve always known Americans are patriotic, but this took the cake.

"I was looking at this descending flag into the sun. For a group of older folks behind me it looked as if I was saluting their flag. They, of course, didn’t know I wasn’t American. Next moment they all jumped to attention and saluted. This was was a predicament since I now was compelled to stay in this position. Once the parachutists made it to the ground, the older folks all waited for me to break my salute and only when I did, they stood at ease. I could hear the cracking of ancient sinews as I walked stiffly around the back of the hangar before collapsing on the grass in utter relief. It was frightening at the time but very funny."

Asking Charles, this Mercury Bay local of many, many years who performed in the Royal Albert Hall, who built a business with brushes and pots of paint, who built a boat and lived on it for a long, long time, who paints "proper" paintings when he has time, who flies aeroplanes and loves teaching others to do the same and who had a whole group of patriotic Americans saluting their flag with him, what he actually thinks of himself, he said in his bone-dry way, "I’m difficult to get on with. I’m self-opinionated with wide and eclectic tastes. But I’m bloody interesting." And for some reason he forgot to add, years ago, when he was young and innocent, he thought he was exceptionally handsome.

Look out for wild ginger

An all-out assault on wild ginger in Tairua kicked off this month and property owners are invited to muscle in.

Kahili ginger has scented yellow flowers that may smell appealing, but it is a plant that grows voraciously. It has long shallow underground stems called rhizomes that form deep beds, which native plants can’t grow up through. Growing up to three metres tall, it also shades out smaller plants and seedlings, and its seeds are easily spread by birds.

If left unchecked it could permanently replace some of our native plants.

Cherry Ladd and fellow members of the Tairua Parks and Reserves group are encouraging Tairua property owners to check their backyards for kahili ginger and “weed it out” through September.

“While controlling kahili ginger on their property is technically the owner’s responsibility, we’re keen to support the community in working together on tackling this pest plant,” said Cherry.

“One of the things property owners often struggle with is disposal, because you can’t compost kahili ginger. So with the help of Waikato Regional Council, we’re giving property owners the opportunity to bring small kahili ginger plants and flower heads to us for disposal.”

A collection site where property owners can dispose of kahili ginger will be set up by Waikato Regional Council at the Pepe Reserve car park on 20 September between 9:00am and 12:00pm.

Waikato Regional Council’s biosecurity officer Benson Lockhart advises that the process is as simple as -

  • Cutting off the flower heads.
  • Digging out small plants, making sure all of the root system is removed.
  • Putting the flower heads and small plants into a plastic bag.   
  • Dropping your bags of flower heads and small plants at the collection point (Pepe Reserve car park, 20 September, 9:00am-12:00pm).

“It’s really only possible to remove kahili ginger by hand when the plants are small. So if people discover a large clump I’d encourage them to remove and bag the flower heads and then give me a call, and I’ll help them figure out a plan of attack,” Benson said.

“Kahili ginger isn’t necessarily any worse in Tairua than anywhere else on the Peninsula, but the community is keen to get stuck into it, which is fantastic.

“Tairua is close to kiwi sanctuaries to the north and this is a plant that forms a dense root mass that prevents kiwi from being able to forage in the soil, so that’s another good reason to get rid of it.”

Factsheets to help property owners recognise this weed will be displayed around the village in the week beginning 8 September and are also available online at ginger.

For more information, contact Benson Lockhart at Waikato Regional Council’s Whitianga office on 07 866 0172 or freephone 0800 BIOSEC (0800 246 732).

Our world in 2003

On 2 September we published issue 600 of The Informer. Yes, from humble beginnings as an A4-size four-page publication without a name on Tuesday 4 March 2003, the paper has evolved over 11 and a half years to a full colour, stiched and trimmed publication with a modern mimimalistic layout.

Instead of revisiting the history of the paper (which we were tempted to do), |we decided to rather look at the year 2003 - what made news locally and further afield and how things have changed over the years The Informer became part of everyday life in the wider Mercury Bay area.

Locally Whitianga Waterways dominated the news. First residents Bruce and Joan Cochrane arrived in January aboard their boat, "Riviera 33." In June work on the realignment of State Highway 25 past the Whitianga airfield and Joan Gaskell Drive becoming the main link into town began. The roading project, which was close to completion in November, had a price tag of $7 million. The Waterways development was expected to bring 1,800 sections to the market over time.

Beach erosion was also prominent. A deluge in January flooded homes, drove campers from their tents and caused great damage to Buffalo Beach and Brophy’s Beach. Rain lashed the Peninsula in March again. Whitianga was completely cut-off from the outside world and Brophy’s Beach suffered more damage. In October the then Thames Coromandel District Council made it known that they weren’t in favour of a seawall at Buffalo Beach. In December some sand was replenished at Brophy’s Beach, the first time that year something significant was done to address the erosion issue.

Big news in Mercury Bay in February was UFO sightings. On 16 February two retired Whitianga men were sitting outside, discussing the America’s Cup. Looking towards Coroglen, they spotted two metallic disc shaped objects heading east. Once out of view, another bullet-shaped object appeared, which was also seen by one of the men’s wives. The men reported the sightings to the Air Force, but heard nothing further about it.

Tairua had its own share of development action with concerned residents and holidaymakers vowing to fight plans for a new marina. In December Waikato Regional Council, TCDC and the Minister for the Environment all declined the marina developers’ applications for resource consent. The developers indicated that they were considering pursuing the matter through the Courts. It was estimated that they had by then already spent more than $1 million on the project.

In August the Smoke Free Environments Amendments Bill was passed. Publicans around the Coromandel prepared for a major slump in business. The law ultimately came into force in December 2004.

Helen Clark was New Zealand Prime Minister in 2003 and Bill English and later Don Brash was leader of the opposition. Also in opposition were Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald from the Green Party, Act’s Richard Prebble, Winston Peters from New Zealand First and Peter Dunne from United Future.

On 24 April New Zealand’s population reached the 4 million mark, according to the population clock of Statistics New Zealand.

The world premiere of The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King took place in Wellington on 17 December.

England won the fifth Rugby World Cup in 2003. Initially to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, all games of the tournament were shifted to Australia after a dispute between the New Zealand Rugby Union and Rugby World Cup Limited. The All Blacks were knocked out by Australia in the semi-finals.

On 1 February the United States space shuttle Columbia disintegrated and crashed in Texas, killing all seven astronauts on board.

From early 2003 acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused widespread panic around the globe. The disease ultimately spread to 32 countries with 8,450 cases reported and 810 people killed.

On 20 March US-British coalition forces launched war on Iraq. The regime of Saddam Hussain was overthrown and the Iraqi Governing Council was set up on 13 July. Saddam Hussain was captured by US troops near Tikrit on 13 December.

So is anything significantly different now, more than a decade after the first issue of The Informer?

Locally Whitianga Waterways is still going and beach erosion is still an issue. But there is now a marina in Tairua and there weren’t any further recorded sightings of UFO’s in the direction of Coroglen. And many publicans seem to have survived the ban on people smoking in their premises.

Some of those who were in opposition in Parliament are at the moment in government and New Zealand’s population is now more than 4,500,000, according to the population clock of Statistics New Zealand.

The All Blacks are the world champions, after the 2011 Rugby World Cup was played wholly on New Zealand soil.

No space shuttles are flying anymore. And the war in Iraq changed the world forever, in ways not many would ever have foreseen.

And, of course, the Informer is still being published, every Tuesday in the wider Mercury Bay area. Thank you for your support. In issue 1,200 (somewhere in 2026) we’ll do a story like this again.

Our thanks to The Treasury in Thames for allowing us to do some research outside their opening hours.

Coromandel MP welcomes Utra Fast Broadband announcement

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson says the National Party election commitment to expand the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) initiative to 80 per cent of all New Zealanders will benefit Coromandel electorate communities directly.

Mr Simpson said the inclusion of Whitianga, Thames, Katikati, Waihi, Te Aroha and Paeroa is exciting news.

He said, “I am delighted about this potentially huge technological and communications boost to our region. It’s great news for businesses and it’s great news for householders.”

The extended roll-out was announced earlier today by National Party Communications and Information Technology spokesperson, Hon Amy Adams.

“This multimillion dollar investment shows National's strong commitment to the future. Our programme is already the most ambitious communications infrastructure initiative in the world, given our low population density and this new announcement only strengthens it in our region,” he said.

Last month, National announced a further $150 million will be made available to further extend the Rural Broadband Initiative, which improves broadband coverage in more sparsely populated rural areas.

DOC asks people not to harass or disturb seals

The Department of Conservation confirmed last night that there are many seals at the moment in the wider Mercury Bay area. “This is not their natural habitat,” said Hayden Smith, Marine Biodiversity Ranger of DOC in Whitianga. “New Zealand fur seals, the type we see at the moment on our eastern Coromandel beaches, can mostly be found around the central parts of New Zealand, Kaikoura for instance, but from time to time migrate north. When they do it’s normally this time of the year.

“It’s also the time of the year when many seal pups leave their mums. That’s why many of the seals around are pups.

“The seas have been rough lately and the young seals go on shore to rest. When people see them, please do not harass or disturb them. They are simply taking a break and will get back into the water when they are ready.”

A seal pup appeared on the pontoon at the Whitianga wharf a few days ago and there were reports of people going too close to the pup and even touching it. The seal later walked into Blacksmith Lane and was captured by a member of the Whitianga Police. Hayden said the seal will be released later today, probably near one of the islands in the Mercury Islands group.

The following DOC guidelines are available for behaviour around marine mammals on shore -

Give seals and sea lions space. Where practicable, stay at least 20 metres away.

Avoid coming between fur seals and the sea.

Keep dogs on a leash and well away.

Where practicable, do not drive vehicles within 50 metres of a marine mammal.

Never attempt to touch seals or sea lions - they can be aggressive and often carry diseases.   

All seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. It’s an offence to harass or disturb marine mammals. Offences carry penalties of up to six months imprisonment or fines up to $250,000.

Banishing the bane of boneseed

Benson Lockhart is on a mission.

The Whitianga-based biosecurity officer for Waikato Regional Council is keen to wipe out as many boneseed plants as possible in coming months to help stop their spread on the Coromandel.

“Boneseed is a nasty pest plant that can blight natural areas and we want to eradicate it wherever we can,” said Benson.

“If given the chance it can take over coastal areas and restrict the regeneration of native coastal species.

“It flowers in spring, so it is easier to spot then, so I’ll be putting in a big eradication effort over spring and early summer. This involves cutting larger plants with a saw and pasting the cut with herbicide. Smaller plants can be pulled out by hand.”

So far boneseed has been found in Whangamata, Whiritoa, Whitianga, Ferry Landing, Cooks Beach, Otama, Port Jackson, Coromandel town, Te Kouma, Thames and on the Thames Coast.

Boneseed is a bushy shrub native to South Africa which grows up to three metres tall. It can grow in nutrient-poor soil and tolerates the salt of coastal areas. It has a yellow daisy like flower that can be seen from August through to February. It was introduced into New Zealand as a garden plant but has become invasive.

Large specimens can produce up to 50,000 seeds with seed remaining viable for up to 10 years. Boneseed’s fruit is eaten by birds and possum and the undigested seed can get spread by them.

Under the council’s regional pest management plan, boneseed is classified as a “progressive containment” species, which means it is technically the responsibility of landowners to control on their properties.

“We’re happy to help with stopping the spread but we do need landowners to join with us  and eradicate it using herbicide or physical removal,” said Benson.

He said he would welcome sightings of the plant from the public or questions about eradication methods via the council’s 0800 800 401 freephone number.

Labour Party announced policy to extend Schedule 4 land to southern Coromandel

All conservation land, beaches and harbours on the southern Coromandel Peninsula between Thames (Kopu-Hikuai Road) and Te Aroha will be included in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act and protected from mining under a Labour-led government.

Denis Tegg, a Thames lawyer and former spokesperson of Coromandel Watchdog said he is thrilled about Labour's election commitment. 

Mr Tegg drafted the private member's bill which ultimately led to legislation being passed in 1997 to protect the northern Coromandel area from mining. “All of the conservation land and the waterways and beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula have amazing landscape, bio-diversity and ecological values. The southern conservation areas have over 100 nationally threatened species and are equally, if not more, deserving of protection as those to the north,” he said 

“This is unfinished business from 1997 when the National government drew an arbitrary line across the Peninsula and protected only the northern area from mining. This was a weak and ludicrous compromise, which was strongly opposed at the time by local communities and the Labour and Green Parties.

“We never gave up, and have relentlessly pursued our campaign for 35 years. Should a Labour/Green government be elected we can finally achieve what we set out to do in 1979 - preserve the entire Coromandel conservation estate from mining, all the way south to Te Aroha.”


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Did TCDC do the right thing to make Whitianga subject to a total watering ban during the busy summer holiday season?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.