Thursday, 12 December 2019


The new local who met the Duchess

With the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George visiting New Zealand the past few weeks, the question inevitably was asked, “Was there someone in Mercury Bay who met one, or all, of the royals?” And the answer is yes. Anna Geard, a counsellor who until recently worked at Rainbow Place and now living in Whitianga, met Kate, the Duchess, in Hamilton on 12 April.

Rainbow Place is the children’s service of Hospice Waikato in Hamilton. It’s a centre providing support for children with a life limiting or life threatening illness and children experiencing grief and loss through the serious illness or death of a loved one. “Kate is the patron of children’s hospices in the United Kingdom,” said Anna. “She wanted to visit a similar children’s service in New Zealand and take some ideas with her back home. Rainbow Place was fortunate to be chosen as the children’s service for her to visit in New Zealand.

“Over the past two years I have been working with a boy whom has experienced a sudden and traumatic bereavement. Part of what I did with him was sand-play therapy.  It’s a form of therapy that is used in counselling to help a person process and express thoughts and feelings that are difficult to put into words. As Kate was keen to hear experiences from those we work with themselves, my colleagues and I felt he had something special to share with Kate. I asked him if he would be open to doing this with my support and he was. On the day, I introduced him to her and he shared a piece of work he had done in the sand tray around his journey through grief, the ups and downs from the very beginning until now.

Kate was very interested in and sensitive to what he had to say. She came across genuine and down to earth. She was just fantastic. “Kate met with some other children and young people as well in the centre’s art therapy, play therapy and teen spaces and then it was time for an amazing Mad Hatters tea party. Many of the Rainbow place kids and their families were there. That was something I will remember forever. The families have been through so much. Kate spent time talking to everyone and really listening to their stories. The children and their families had a fantastic and memorable time.”

So, what brings Anna to Whitianga? “I had an opportunity last year to reassess what I want from life. I’ve been working as a counsellor in high-end agency work for the past eight years and I decided I needed a lifestyle change. I wanted to live by the ocean in a smaller community. I have family here in Whitianga and have spent a lot of time in this area as a child and especially over the past three years. This is where I want to be at this time in my life. I would like to get a counselling practice off the ground, working with all ages, especially children and youth and their families as this is my area of expertise. And I would love to teach lots of yoga, for adults and kids, that’s something I’m passionate about.”

Probing about her passion for yoga, Anna revealed that she’s previously taught yoga at studios in Auckland and Hamilton and at a kindergarten, to kids aged three to five. “They loved it,” she said. She has also had lots of sports teams, including Chiefs rugby players, in her yoga classes, “And they loved it too.”

That’s it then, meet Anna Geard - new Whitianga resident, counsellor and yoga teacher. And someone who had the privilege to meet Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, the mother of George, the future King of England.

A Targa Rally like no other coming to Mercury Bay

The Targa Rally will be returning to Mercury Bay on 16 and 17 May. This year is the 20th anniversary of the first Targa event in New Zealand and to celebrate it, two rallies will be held, Targa New Zealand in the South Island and Targa North Island. The North island event is a combination of two previous Targa events, Targa Bambina and Targa Rotorua. Mercury Bay used to be a regular feature on the Targa Bambina Rally.

The Targa North Island will depart Auckland on Friday, 16 May and will bring some spectacular racing during two special stages to the wider Mercury Bay area. Special Stage 7 will cover a distance of 10.54km on State Highway 25 across the Whangapoua Hill on 16 May. The stage will start
at 3:35pm at the Coromandel Town side of the hill and will finish at Te Rerenga. The road will be closed from 2:30pm to 5:30pm.

Special Stage 8 is something everyone involved in the Targa Rally has been waiting for. The stage, also on State Highway 25, will take place on Saturday 17 May from Whenuakite to Tairua across the Tairua Hill, a distance of 12.17km. It’s the first time this road will form part of the Targa Rally and is, according to many of the participants in the event, one of the most challenging tarmac roads in New Zealand. Many of them have dreamed of it one day being a Targa stage. The road will be closed from 6:45am to 10:00am, with the first cars setting off at 8:00am.

Rally director, Peter Martin said about the Tairua Hill special stage, “This is a real coup for us and a vindication both of our systems and the work we have put in with local residents, Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). The key has been to minimise the disruption and after monitoring our [last three] events here, NZTA has agreed to the closure this year.” According to the rally organisers, the best viewing of both stages will be had by simply walking into the special stage areas from both ends. Whitianga will host the rally’s overnight stop on 16 May. Competitors’ cars will be serviced at the Mercury Bay Multi-Sport Park in Whitianga upon their arrival in town, whereafter they will be parked overnight at the Lee Street car park.

Participants in the Targa Tour, a non-competitive “tag-along” event for owners of late model exotic or older classic cars, will arrive at the Lee Street car park from 4:30pm for a charity car wash. They will be joined by the rally competitors as soon as the servicing of their cars at the Multi-Sport Park are finished. Members of the public are welcome to check out the cars and talk to competitors both at the Multi-Sport Park and the Lee Street car park. A third special stage of the rally on the Coromandel will be held at Whiritoa later on Saturday, 17 May. The rally will finish in Rotorua on
Sunday, 18 May.

Never should we forget

Looking through the Mercury Bay RSA display of wartime memorabilia - and realising war isn’t just a story, it’s about real people who served, and in some instances died, for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today.

With ANZAC Day approaching, I took some time to look through the Mercury Bay RSA display of wartime memorabilia at the Mercury Bay Club in Whitianga. There are all kinds of things to look at, most of it donated or loaned by members or past members of the RSA. No doubt, it was a moving experience.

There are the medals earned by Flight Lieutenant CAR Simpson during World War One. And the pay book of JA Work. The book was issued to him on 28 June 1916. He was 24 years old. It contained instructions on how to make a will. There’s a rock from Gallipoli. And a newspaper clipping about the New Zealand National Memorial at Chunuk Bair, one of the three high points in the Gallipoli area.

There’s also, as expected, a print with the words of “In Flanders Fields.” I had to pause to read this most famous of wartime poems, written by Canadian John McRae on 3 May 1915 while at the battlefront at Ypres in the Belgium province of West Flanders -

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

From World War Two I saw a Russian fur cap and a “tar boosh,” which is similar to an Egyptian fez, from Turkey. I saw, somewhat unexpectedly, an ode to Lili Marlene, a famous German love song, written by a member of the British Eighth Army. There are many local names who served - Harsant, Bruce, Tucker, Simpson to name a few. There’s also a shell dressing and a first field dressing. And a menu from De Paris Cocktail Bar and Restaurant in Valetta, the capital of Malta, selling spaghetti, fried pork chops, fish fillets and breaded veal. There’s a report on the monetary cost of the war, staggering numbers - even in today’s terms. Britain spent £30 billion, Germany £67,500 billion, America more than £85 billion.

There are a few things from the war in Vietnam too. I saw an armour guard and tank helmet and local Rae Lelande’s uniform. She passed away in 2008.

I had a look at some dates. In 1976 the RSA presented a plaque to the Mercury Bay Club on the opening of their new club rooms. On it the inscription, “May friendship strengthen and good fellowship prevail.” I saw that it’s generally accepted that World War Two started in 1939 and ended in 1945. The Vietnam War started in 1956 and ended in 1975. I also saw that World War One started in 1914 and ended in 1918. I had a second look - and then realised this year is 100 years since the start of World War One.

I took a deep breath and went home. The RSA display hit close to home. I realised that war isn’t just a story. It’s about real people who served, and in some instances died, for all of us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. I thought about the words of local optometrist, Brett Howes’s song out the First Battle of Passchendaele in West Flanders during World War One -

So enjoy your lives and freedom, for you are truly blessed.
But remember our sacrifice, so our souls at peace can rest.
They fought, some died - I will remember them. Yes, I will remember them.

The Mercury Bay RSA has ten surviving members who served during World War Two - Alan Clague (Patron of the RSA), Mike Jacobson, Jim Greenaway, Roy Hart, Mick Williams, Bill Dunn, Harry Simpson, Alf Simpson, Val White and Derek Boardman.

The Mercury Bay RSA will hold a Dawn Service on ANZAC Day, 25 April at 6:00am at Soldiers Memorial Park, Whitianga. A Dawn Parade will assemble at the Mercury Bay Club at 5:45am.Breakfast will after the Dawn Service be served at the Mercury Bay Club at a cost of $11.00. The Mercury Bay Museum teamed up with the RSA to put up a special war display in the main room of the Mercury Bay Club for the duration of ANZAC Day.

Some of the display will be moved to the Mercury Bay Museum after ANZAC Day. Parades and Services will also be held on ANZAC Day in Tairua - at the Ex-Servicemen Cemetery at 6:00am, in Pauanui - at the Surf Club (the Sports and Recreation Club when raining) at 6:00am and the Sports and Recreation Club at 11:00am and in Matarangi - at the Volunteer Fire Brigade at 11:00am.

Whale Warrior satisfied with verdict against Japanese scientific whaling in Antarctica

On 31 March 2014 The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands banned Japan’s scientific whaling program in Antarctica. Anti-whaling activists, Whale Warrior and regular visitor to the Coromandel, Pete Bethune and Laurens De Groot were at The Hague to witness the historic ruling.

The verdict, Bethune said, brutally killed off Japan’s claims of scientific research and in doing so, has ended whaling in Antarctica - bringing to a close the conservation war fought on many fronts since 1987. “It was an epic day, history was made and I’m really happy to have played a part.”

Bethune and De Groot nearly lost their lives in 2010 when the Sea Shepherd protest boat, the Ady Gil was run over by a Japanese whaling ship in Antarctic waters. After the incident, Bethune boarded the Japanese vessel at night from a jet ski - launching himself into the darkness towards the ship’s massive stern.

His plan, to arrest the ship’s captain to attract media attention to Japan’s illegal whaling activities, landed him in a Japanese jail. International media followed the controversial ramming incident and Bethune’s ensuing court case.

The public was riled and the topic was discussed on talk back radio, in newspapers, forums and on social networking sites around the world.

“Greenpeace for many years was alone in battling the Japanese in Antarctica. More recently it was Sea Shepherd that took up the baton and their relentless games of hide and seek and then follow the leader with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean helped keep whaling in the public consciousness,” Bethune said. 

Australia’s Peter Garret, ex lead singer of Midnight Oil and Minister for the Environment (2007-2010) proposed the unprecedented step of legal action against Japan.

Cajoled by Senator Bob Brown and the Greens, the Australian government backed Garrett’s proposal and four years later in The Hague, the case Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v Japan: New Zealand intervening) was won.

Japan has since cancelled its 2014 - 2015 Antarctic whale hunt.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) recognizes four types of whaling - commercial, aboriginal subsistence, whaling under “objection,” and Article 8, “scientific” whaling. It was the latter type of whaling that Japan was claiming to have been carrying out in Antarctica.

The court ruled that Japan’s scientific whaling in Antarctica did not comply with the IWC definition of scientific permit whaling, was in contravention of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling and factory ship whaling and was in contravention of the IWC Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

Japan could not demonstrate the actual quota it allocated itself was appropriate for the science it claimed it was carrying out. The Court criticised Japan for not investigating appropriately whether non-lethal methods of study could replace the need to kill whales and noted that after 16 years of killing whales in Antarctica, Japan had only published two peer-reviewed articles.

Bethune said he felt “awfully satisfied” with the verdict. “In many ways we all share in this victory. Individuals, teams, NGOs, media, governments - all have played key roles in ending something most of us knew to be wrong. It is also a lesson to us all that we can affect change.  If the world can stop whaling in Antarctica - well there is no telling what else we are also capable of doing.”

Whitianga Garden Club celebrated 35 years last week

On Tuesday last week, 8 April the Whitianga Garden Club celebrated their 35th anniversary with a lunch at Motu Kitchen in Whitianga.

For founding members, Tertia Abrahamson and Margaret Simpson, it was a good time to reminisce about years gone by.

“I just want to set the record straight,” said Margaret, “Tertia is more of a founding member than I am, because I missed the first meeting.”

The club was Tertia’s idea. “We lived on a farm outside town those years. There was lot of clay and I had difficulty getting a garden going. I made some enquiries with other garden clubs, but they were all full. I spoke to Jean Niccol about my predicament and next moment she invited a few ladies over to my place to discuss the idea of our own garden club. That led to a first formal meeting at Freda Reynders’s place, when we formed the club.”

Tertia remembered more meetings at Freda’s place, which wasn’t very big. “One time, while I was president of the club, there weren’t enough chairs around, so I sat on the ground and conducted the meeting from the floor.”

That caused Margaret to remember the first time the club invited some surrounding clubs over for a garden party. “It was held at my place in Simpsons Beach, all planned for the front garden. But the wind was awful, so we had to shift it to the back garden, where everyone had to sit with their hats and Sunday finery around the septic tank mushroom. That wasn’t the worst, though.

At some point those of us working in the kitchen became a bit concerned because the heaps, or so we thought, of food we prepared were fast disappearing. We just made it - no leftovers. All that was left for us working bees were salad leaves. We learnt a lot that day. We never ran short again.”

And then Tertia remembered a trip to a garden outside Coromandel Town. “Joan Whiting was the president at that time. The lady whose garden we went to had a few donkeys on her property. Joan decided to get on one. The donkey didn’t exactly like it and started running. Joan quietly decided that was a good time to slide off it. It was very funny.”

Both of them also remembered a potato growing contest the club had one year. “We were each given a seed potato to plant,” said Margaret. “There were quite a few prizes. The lady who won grew 3lb of potatoes. Quite unbelievable.”

That immediately had Tertia laughing. “Yes, I remember I succeeded in growing only three potatoes. The one was smaller than half of a dainty scone. The other two were even smaller. I won the boobie prize. That put me off vegetable gardening forever.” To that Maragret added, “My potatoes were small too. But according to the judges, the one was near perfectly formed. So I got a prize for that.”

The biggest change the club has seen over the years is that meetings are now held after a shared lunch, not before afternoon tea as was the case in the early days. Club members still go on trips to flower shows, they still visit gardens around the area and when one of them isn’t well, they still get a “get well soon card.”

“It’s still great fun. I will belong to the club as long as I can,” said Tertia. To which Margaret added, “Yes, me too.”

Making a difference to planet Earth

Known locally around Tairua and Whitianga as “that guy in camo,” Pete Bethune is a hero to most. Others think he’s crazy. He’s been holidaying in the area since 1997, so knows the area well. His mother lives in Tairua.

Pete Bethune became somewhat of a “brand” when the trimaran he skippered was rendered bowless after a run-in with a Japanese whaling ship in 2010. Subsequent media coverage propelled Bethune and the anti-whaling protest into the lounges of the world.

But well before this, our local hero was on a mission to make a difference to the planet. Residents from towns around the Coromandel Peninsula may remember the boat, Earthrace docked at their town’s wharf, before she was shrouded in a cloak of black paint and renamed the Ady Gil.

Pete Bethune was on a different sort of quest back then. He sought to break the world record as the fastest powerboat to circumnavigate the globe - without leaving a carbon footprint. And he took the bio-fueled boat into coastal ports around New Zealand to promote his record attempt and attract sponsors.

People from all over the country stepped down into the boat’s tiny cabin space. As a publicity stunt, Bethune had liposuction and converted his fat to fuel - but this didn’t help his 2007 world record attempt. His 2008 attempt however, smashed the record in an electrifying 61 days, shaving 11 days from the previous record.

People from around the Coromandel Peninsula are applauding “that guy in camo.” Bethune’s good friends in Whitianga, Dive Zone’s Darrell and Linda Bird admire Pete’s passion for the environment. If he is in the country, Pete is often the guest speaker at their annual Dive Festival.

“We’re delighted with the decision of the International Court of Justice, not only because it will stop the killing of whales in the Antarctic by the Japanese, but also because, for Pete, it’s a personal victory. One he completely deserves,” said Linda.

Back in 2006, when speaking of the multitude of environmental issues screaming out for advocacy, Bethune described himself as “a lion in a field of zebras.” In terms of making a difference to planet Earth, we could say there is one

less zebra in the field for Pete Bethune.

Stingrays on new Buffalo Beach footpath now complete

The stingrays on the new footpath along Buffalo Beach in Whitianga are now complete. The stingrays were designed by renowned Mercurt Bay artist, Michael Smither in conjunction with Nagti Hei and Thames Coromandel District Council. Mr Smither donated his involvement in the project to the people of Mercury Bay. He was involved in the Underfoot Gallery on the Thames Coastal Walkway and when TCDC asked him to become involved in the Whitianga
project, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The stingrays are the first public works of art in Whitianga.

Kauri 2000 to continue planting trees despite dieback

The confirmation that kauri dieback disease is present on the Coromandel Peninsula is devastating for most, if not all, people. At an emergency meeting held by the Kauri 2000 Trust, chair, Alison Henry said, “We hoped that the Peninsula was free of the disease, but this news confirms our worst fears.”
At the meeting the trustees of the Trust were unanimous in their decision to continue planting kauri and will be organising planting days again this June. Kauri 2000 maintains all their planting sites for three to five years. All their existing sites are healthy with no indication of dieback. “We are confident that continuing to plant is the right thing to do. Indeed, our small seedlings could be seen as the proverbial canary in the coalmine and should the disease be present, we will be warned very early,” said Mrs Henry.
Kauri dieback is caused by a soil-born phytophthora which is a fungus-like pathogen. It enters the tree through its small roots and gradually strangles the tree of nutrients. 
While young and mature trees take some years to show symptoms, small seedlings succumb within a few weeks. 
The Trust is working closely with the Kauri Dieback Management Team, which includes representatives of the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Primary Industries and Waikato Regional Council.  Education about the disease and how to stop it spreading is the best defence against kauri dieback and will be a major focus for both the Trust and the Dieback Team.  Because the disease is spread by soil, it is essential that everyone understands that all boots, spades, bikes and equipment are cleaned of all soil before entering any of the Coromandel forests. 
Kauri 2000 has been planting kauri trees on the Coromandel Peninsula since 1999 and this year the Trust will reach a major milestone of planting their 40,000th seedling. For more information about kauri dieback see


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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.