Wednesday, 27 January 2021


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.”

Results show limited spread of kauri dieback

Results of aerial and ground surveillance of the Coromandel Peninsula show that the presence of Phytophythora taxon Agathis (PTA), or kauri dieback disease is not widespread in the area, Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced today.

"We were seriously worried with the discovery of kauri dieback in the Whangapoua Forest in March that the disease was more widespread through the Coromandel. The results of the extensive surveillance are that the disease is confined to a small area with a low risk of spread and it has most likely been present for several decades," Dr Smith said.

Kauri dieback disease is caused by a microscopic, fungus-like organism which infects the tree’s roots and damages the tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving it to death. It was first detected on the Coromandel Peninsula in March this year in the Whangapoua Forest, just north of Whitianga. The area was immediately closed to the public to reduce the risk of spreading the disease and a comprehensive aerial and ground surveillance programme was initiated.

The results from this programme were released today and show that the disease has only been confirmed on two sites on the Coromandel - at the initial site in the Whangapoua Forest, and at another site on private land nearby.

“It is fortunate that the characteristics of the affected area will make it easier to contain the disease. There are no walking tracks and access to the area is limited. The area will remain closed while the discussions continue with the local community, mana whenua and adjoining landowners on the long term management options for this site,” Mr Guy said.

“The pattern of disease and history of these two sites suggest that the pathogen causing kauri dieback was likely spread to the area by the New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) decades ago during the establishment of the commercial pine forest at Whangapoua," Mr Guy said.

Historic NZFS activity has also been implicated in the spread of kauri dieback to other infected sites in Northland and Auckland.

“The Government is committed to doing everything practically possible to protect our Kauri forests from PTA. Funding was first applied for in 2008 but declined by the previous Government. We have funded a programme of $4.7 million in Budget 2009 over five years and Budget 2014 provided a further $26.5 million over the next five years. We have also provided this month a $57,000 Community Conservation Partnership Fund grant to the Kauri 2000 Trust to help raise community awareness of the problem," Dr Smith said.

“Kauri is an iconic species for New Zealand and one of the oldest and largest organisms on earth. The Government is committed to ensuring its survival for the enjoyment of future generations. We ask the public to do its part to avoid spread of the disease. This means adopting biosecurity measures of cleaning and disinfecting footwear, vehicle tyres and machinery when moving to or from any kauri forests. We also urge walkers to keep to formed tracks. We need to take a precautionary approach of assuming every kauri stand may be infected,” Dr Smith concluded.

Wilderland debt to TCDC paid

A few weeks ago we reported on the predicament of Wilderland Trust in needing to pay more than $30,000 to Thames Coromandel District Council to settle an unforeseen development contribution debt. The debt was paid in full on Tuesday last week.

This is what we’ve received from Russel Mooyman, chairman of the trust -

This month Wilderland Trust needed urgent help to pay an outstanding debt to Council. The public responded with resounding positivity and enough donations were made to pay the debt in full.

We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks for the kind support from our local Mercury Bay community and the wider community of our priceless Peninsula.

Fruit trees will be planted at Wilderland and named in honour of many generous benefactors, bringing a sweet reminder of their gift for years to come. And as a small act of thanks to the local community some of our team spent Wednesday morning collecting rubbish along the full stretch of Buffalo Beach, including two-year-old Maya Perez and 82-year-old Gordon Hammond.

With the debt paid, this is the last hurdle in our efforts to bring Wilderland into compliance with today’s Council regulations. And with this behind us,
we look forward to progressing our plans to broaden Wilderland’s public service. A visitor centre is in the planning stage, which, when complete, will provide greater opportunity for learning experiences in sustainability.

If you’d like to know more about what’s going on at Wilderland, please visit our roadside shop on SH25, 14km south of Whitianga, and speak to one of our many volunteer shopkeepers, or visit our website


TCDC happy with Freedom Camping bylaw ruling

Thames Coromandel District Council is satisfied with the ruling in the case where the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association applied to overturn their Freedom Camping bylaw.

"On that point the NZMCA has failed," said TCDC Executive David Hammond. "While this will be regarded as a win for Council in most people's books, when you have to spend as much as we did to defend a bylaw in Court, no one really wins.

"NZMCA wanted to prove our bylaw was illegal, that it breached the Bill of Rights and we didn't have the information to back our restricted and prohibited areas - they said that our bylaw was the opposite of what the law required. On all these accusations the High Court Judge did not support them. It means that the Coromandel community can have the confidence that the Bylaw they put in place in 2011 is completely legal and fully enforceable."

According to TCDC, all challenges by NZMCA, apart from several minor technical and procedural points, have been dismissed. "There are a lot of implications for local government. Communities can again have the confidence to set their own Freedom Camping bylaws without the threat of legal action constricting their aspirations. And we've greatly appreciated that the Courts respect the democracy of local areas to make responsible decisions for themselves," said Mr Hammond. "My team is available to advise local councils across the country on how to develop robust Freedom Camping bylaws.

"With that in mind, we're also a long way down the track in reviewing our Freedom Camping bylaw to make it even more responsive. Between June and July we held public submissions on our new bylaw. This week our Council were in hearing and deliberations are scheduled for September in time for a new Freedom Camping bylaw to be out by this summer.”

The ruling -

  • Confirmed TCDC’s existing 2011 Freedom Camping Bylaw is legal. It is enforceable and remains untouched. Two clauses of different bylaws are revoked where it was found that technically they contradicted the Freedom Camping Bylaw. Clauses 203.5 of the public places bylaw and 2003.5 of the parking bylaw are revoked and not to be used when enforcing Freedom Camping infringements.
  • Amendments made to TCDC’s Freedom Camping bylaw on 13 March and 27 November 2013 to open up new areas for freedom camping are quashed. This means TCDC has reverted back to their 2011 Freedom Camping Bylaw. The new areas have today been closed to motor caravans as a result of the court ruling.
  • Means that in future, Freedom Camping in the Thames Coromandel district shall be governed by the Freedom Camping bylaw or amendments to the bylaw, which removed any doubt about other potentially conflicting legislation.



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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.