Friday, 20 September 2019


After 16 years and nine months of transporting people, bicycles, prams, fresh produce, takeaways and a myriad of other things across the Whitianga River, well-known and much-loved Whitianga ferry driver, Eric Mair (pictured), has retired earlier this week.

By Stephan Bosman

The Whitianga Touch Club is on a roll. Less than six years old, the club’s local summer touch competition is for the first time ever sporting four grades - men’s, women’s, mixed and family - and a week and a half out from their annual tournament on Saturday 16 February, 18 teams have already entered, surpassing last year’s record number of 17 entries. “We expect several more teams to enter our annual tournament as there’s always a rush the day or two before the tournament,” says Aimee Jackman, club president.

So far, teams from the Thames-Valley area, Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, Matamata, Hamilton and Tokoroa have entered the annual tournament. “Peter Walters, a former captain of the New Zealand men’s touch team, will be bringing an over-45s team to the tournament, that’s very exciting,” says Aimee.

The tournament will be played at the Mercury Bay Multisport Park. “I hope many of the people in Mercury Bay will come enjoy the tournament with us. The atmosphere is going to be great.”

Aimee will personally be in action in the tournament as part of the Thames-Valley women’s representative team. The team will participate in the tournament in the mixed grade as part of their preparation for the Touch New Zealand Nationals that will be played in March in Rotorua.

Aimee isn’t the only club member playing representative touch. Jaeda Jackman-King and Drew Casey have both been playing for the Thames-Valley Under 12 mixed team this season. The team have finished their season on a high by winning gold at the prestigious Touch New Zealand Northern Inter Provincial Series (IPS) tournament that was held in Rotorua the weekend before last. 

“The Thames-Valley Under 12 mixed team’s win at the Northern IPS was huge,” says Aimee. “Thames-Valley teams have won gold at the tournament only twice before, the first time 15 years ago and the second time five years ago. What makes the team’s achievement even more significant is that they went through the entire tournament undefeated. In the history of the tournament that has never happened before.”

The Thames-Valley Under 12 mixed team played in four other tournaments in the lead up to the Northern IPS, winning three golds and a silver.

The Whitianga Touch Club’s local competition is being played on Wednesday evenings at the Mercury Bay Multisport Park. The 27 participating teams have three more rounds to play before the finals day on Saturday 23 February.

“Everyone in our club is excited about the future of touch in Mercury Bay,” says Aimee. “We expect to see more Thames-Valley representative players being selected in the years to come and also hope to open pathways for future referees as well. The New Zealand touch referees are in high demand internationally. It’s a great way to do something you enjoy and see the world at the same time.”

Pictured are Jaeda Jackman-King (left) and Drew Casey just after their Thames-Valley Under 12 girls team have won gold at the Touch New Zealand Northern Inter Provincial Series tournament that was held in Rotorua the weekend before last.

By Suzanne Hansen

Well-known Kennedy Bay local, Rob McLeod, was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List for his contributions to Māori and business.

I have recently spoken to him about the honour and his many achievements.

Sir Rob says his success in life derives from the opportunities provided by two strong-willed and nurturing families. The one family he married into through his wife, Joanne, resulting in three talented sons. The other one he was born into. This has been enhanced by the role models he has met along life’s pathway.

He counts himself incredibly lucky for these encounters. He accepted his New Year’s honour with mixed emotions of delight, pride and humility for the opportunities given to him by his family and other people.

Although born, raised and schooled in the East Coast region of New Zealand, primarily on the outskirts of Gisborne, Sir Rob and his family are deeply connected to Kennedy Bay through his mother, Helen Margaret Ngapo, known locally as Dolly. Her family connection to Kennedy Bay dates back to the 19th century.

Raised in Harataunga by her maiden aunt Kate, Dolly met Rob’s father, George McLeod, in Gisborne after he returned from the 28th Maori Batallion in World War II.

Dolly was working as a nurse and George was asked by his good army friend, Tuhaka Ngapo (Sir Rob's “Uncle Dodge”), who was Dolly's whāngai brother, to deliver a gift to her. George delivered the gift, he and Dolly fell in love, married and had five children - Rob being the youngest.

All of Rob’s siblings were schooled in Gisborne, with the exception of brother John, who was sent to Kennedy Bay to be raised and primary-schooled at the request of Dolly's aunt Kate.

Towards the end of high school, Sir Rob was leaning towards acceptance of an apprenticeship as an electrician, but was directed by his mother to go to university like his other siblings had before him. Rob describes his mother as a, “Strong-willed Ngāti Porou woman with red hair, well-known for not taking no as an answer.”

He went off to university and his parents retired and moved to Kennedy Bay to live in 1976. They took over the family homestead, which continues to be the heart of the McLeod whanau. Each of Rob’s three surviving siblings now either live or own property in Kennedy Bay and visit frequently.  His parents are both buried at the homestead.

Rob ended up with a conjoint degree in commerce and law, which he started at Otago University and completed at Auckland University. With this mix of disciplines, he decided a career in taxation would be the best match. 

He has been a specialist tax practitioner for more than 30 years. In his career, Sir Rob has held a number of senior leadership roles in New Zealand, Australian and Māori business organisations, including chairing the New Zealand Business Round Table for eight years (the longest standing chairman) and chairing the 2001 government tax review.

He served as chief executive and managing partner of Ernst & Young New Zealand, before being appointed to the same role for EY Australasia, based in Sydney, for approximately five years. During this time, he pushed an active agenda for gender equity and championed indigenous initiatives, including EY filing its first reconciliation action plan in Australia.

He was also instrumental in actively transitioning EY’s domestic focus on Australia and New Zealand to one of Asia Pacific integration. 

He is a retired member of the Business Council of Australia where he served on the council’s Taskforces on Indigenous Engagement and Economic Policy and Competitiveness. 

Sir Rob, with his Ngāti Porou whakapapa, has been a champion for small business and entrepreneurship and was a key driver of Māori economic development. He served on the 2004 Hui Taumata Taskforce to increase Māori participation, leadership and governance in the workforce.

He was also a member of the Māori Economic Development Taskforce in 2010 and was on the establishment team for Te Puni Kokiri (the Ministry of Māori Development).

Other governance roles held by Sir Rob include serving on an Independent Ministerial Advisory Panel for the Defence Review, the National Infrastructure Advisory Board and the Ministerial Taskforce on Tertiary Education. He has been a Commissioner of the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, and chaired Aotearoa Fisheries Limited.

He has held directorships of Tainui Group Holdings, Telecom NZ, ANZ, Sky City, Gulliver Travel and Sealord. He is currently deputy chairman of Sanford, chairman of Quayside Holdings and the E Tipu E Rea Trust, and a director of the Port of Tauranga.

When I asked this truly inspirational man what his aspirations were for Kennedy Bay, the Coromandel and New Zealand as a whole, Sir Rob gave a passionate response based on the principles adopted by the Ngāti Porou leader, Sir Āpirana Ngata (who is memorialised on our $50 note).

In his whakatauki e tipu e rea, the following message to the then emerging generation of rangitahi was given, “Oh grow, little shoot(s), for the days of your years. Embrace the tools of the Pākehā for the nourishment of your body. Wear your culture and custom as a crown on your head and give your soul to God, the author of all things.”

Sir Rob regards the “tools of the Pākehā” as a metaphor for education, training and jobs focused on material wellbeing.  He says Ta Āpirana depicted God as representing moral and ethical values, accompanied by the need to keep cultural identity as a filter for one’s worldview. Ta Āpirana emphasised but differentiated material from cultural wellbeing.

Sir Rob is a truly accomplished individual who has certainly led a fulfilling life. His New Year’s honour is well-deserved.

Pictured is Sir Rob McLeod.

By Suzanne Hansen

The focus of Whitianga local, Stella Pennell’s research for her PhD in sociology widened as a result of her recent three-month visiting post-graduate fellowship at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. 

Stella was during her stay in the Netherlands surrounded by like-minded academics, including her sponsor, Wageningen’s Chair of Sociology of Development and Change, Dr Bram Büscher. Dr Büscher is one of only a few people working in Stella’s specific area of interest, “platform capitalism.”  

The term platform capitalism describes global platforms such as Airbnb - an online marketplace where people rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests, bypassing many of the commercial parameters and taxes that have to be met by fulltime accommodation providers. 

Stella set out writing her PhD on the effect of such platforms on regional tourism hubs like the Coromandel Peninsula. Her time “knocking ideas around” with her international colleagues at Wageningen and her networking at various conferences while in the Netherlands, caused her to form the opinion that, in the context of tourism, “Too much of a good thing might not be a good thing.” 

With the explosion of platforms like Airbnb, tourism markets like New Zealand may need to learn from other markets and decide, “What sort of tourism do we want?”

Stella mentions tourist destinations like Barcelona where the city currently has more visitors than residents, due to the spiralling costs of accommodation brought on by property owners capitalising on homestay accommodation. The city is now chasing “de-growth”  and “de-tourism” by setting up new bylaws which even out the playing field.

“There are also new grassroots platforms like FairBnB, which have emerged in response to the impact of Airbnb and decides together with local authorities how to make the tourism accommodation process fairer, more sustainable and rewarding for the whole community,” says Stella.     

Bringing this into local context, for a town like Whitianga, which swells from approximately 5,000 permanent residents to more than 20,000 people in the high season, who is paying for the infrastructure required to accommodate all the visitors and what is the true impact of their visits? How do families find long term accommodation in an opportunistic tourist market? How do we protect the lifestyle and values that we actually want?

As a result of her fellowship at Wageningen University, Stella is now also focusing some of her research on the concept of “digital subjectivity.” The feedback people see on online platforms is set up by algorithms, which are actually human marketing inventions and are fallible. “An example is Airbnb starting to think that I was Dutch because of my three-month stay in the Netherlands,” says Stella. “I started to receive vacation offers to Rarotonga in Dutch. I have been to Rarotonga before, but I am not fluent in Dutch.

“This is a ripe example of how Airbnb is disconnected to the reality of their customers.”

Platforms like Airbnb, because they are global and there is need for a common language, tend to “dumb down” our unique values to the lowest common denominator. How, in this scenario, are we to appropriately market our intrinsic Kiwi or Coromandel uniqueness and attract the kind of visitors who would enhance and protect our lifestyle? 

Stella says that three months away from home was a life-changing experience, where she had a lot of time to contemplate what really matters to her. “The concept of ‘our place’ is completely intertwined with our identity and our relationships with others,” she says. “While we are chasing being hospitable, we also need to reflect on what intrinsic values we have, why we live in New Zealand or on the Coromandel and identify the unique parts of the experience we want to protect.”

Stella is aiming to submit her thesis in August. She has also nearly finished a journal article that will be published in the near future.

Pictured is Stella outside her office at Wageningen University.

Following another successful Whitianga Summer Concert on Sunday 27 January, Greenstone Entertainment is pleased to confirm that they will be returning to the Coromandel and the Whitianga Waterways Arena as part of their 2020 Summer Concert Tour.

Since 2015, The Whitianga Waterways Arena has played host to the final of three shows in the annual Summer Concert Tour, with nearly 60,000 concert goers having attended across the past five years a relaxed, chilled out afternoon of music - popular with holidaymakers and locals alike.

“We have a great relationship with Greenstone Entertainment and are proud to provide them with a purpose-built concert site that can cater for up to 15,000 people,” says Peter Abrahamson, Whitianga Waterways manager. “Plenty of parking is available and there are generous seating areas available for concertgoers.”

Amanda Calvert, Greenstone Entertainment CEO, says the Coromandel fits perfectly with their philosophy of delivering world class international music acts to idyllic holiday locations across the country. “The Whitianga Waterways Arena is an ideal venue for our Summer Concert Tour,” she says. “We’re excited to be returning to the venue in 2020 to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of Greenstone Entertainment.”

The 2020 Summer Concert Tour will also return to the additional favourite summer holiday locations of Taupo and Queenstown.

Pictured is Roger Hodgson (formerly of Supertramp) on stage during the Whitianga Summer Concert on 27 January.

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With the squad that was announced last month, do you believe the All Blacks have what it takes to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup?

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.