Tuesday, 22 January 2019


Hahei working group to contribute to walk

A Hahei working group is being formed to contribiute to the Cathedral Coast Walk project. The group, made up of permanent Hahei residents, non-permanent residents, the Hahei Business Association and Coastal Walkways will be the major forum through which the Hahei community and stakeholders can table views and issues. The group will report back to the Project Governance Group, which is made up of Thames Coromandel District Council, the Department of Conservation and Ngati Hei.

"It's really important that we have local knowledge on this project and we want to thank the Hahei community for working with us," said Garry Towler, the TCDC representative on the project.

Proposed to be constructed in several stages, the Cathedral Coast Walk is part of TCDC’s Coromandel Great Walks Project, aimed at creating world-class walking routes throughout the Coromandel to broaden the Peninsula’s economic base.

Stage 1A and 1B of the Cathedral Coast Walk is approximately 10km in length from the iconic "Blowhole" at Te Pupuha Recreation Reserve south of Hahei through to the Purangi Estuary at Cooks Beach. It takes in DOC estate, Council reserve and QE2 Trust land.  A private section of land at Lees Rd is also being negotiated, which will help to provide additional car parking for anyone wanting to walk the route.

Calling Coromandels home-grown food providers and musicians

Do you make a mean mussel fritter? Are you brewing beer locally? Are you growing your own produce to sell? If you're a Coromandel food and beverage producer or grower who wants to promote your product either nationally or internationally - Thames Coromandel District Council wants to hear from you.

Last month Brett O'Reilly the Chief Executive of Auckland Toursim Events and Economic Development  (ATEED) and a group of his staff tour the Coromandel looking at developing opportunities and links between the Coromandel District and Auckland.

"As well as being blown away by the Coromandel scenery, Brett and his team were really impressed with the local food and hospitality," said Whangamata Area Office Manager Garry Towler, who arranged the trip.

"Bringing ATEED to the Coromandel enabled them to experience first-hand our aquaculture and our niche food and horticulture industries. The group all agreed there are some really good opportunities to promote the Coromandel product to the Auckland market and beyond. We're now arranging to work more closely with ATEED on how we can capitalise on these opportunities."

Wendy Voeglin, one of the people from the ATEED group, specialises in rural development and the home-grown food and beverage market. She has also been involved in Auckland's successful bid to stage the 2017 World Travel Summit. Held every two years, the World Travel Summit and Expo is the largest gathering of food and drink tourism professionals.

"Wendy was really impressed with the niche food and beverage market on the Coromandel and sees lots of ways she can bring international food writers and chefs to the Coromandel and promote food tourism within our District," said Mr Towler.

So TCDC now wants to put together a database of local food producers and providers who would like to promote and showcase their products.

The database will list the contacts and details of local home-grown and niche food and beverage providers. The information will be shared with ATEED, but also promoted through Destination Coromandel for food tourism opportunities as well as on the TCDC website.

If you want your business to be included on the database please send your contact details, a description of what you offer and any website information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., TCDC’s communications manager.

TCDC is also working with Regional Tourism Operator Destination Coromandel to create a database for professional musicians and bands from the Coromandel.

"We want to promote and support our home-grown talent so that when someone is setting up an event, a festival or even a wedding, they can click onto the database and connect with our local artists," said Destination Coromandel Manager Hadley Dryden.

"Many festival and event organisers may not realise we have a vibrant and talented music industry, so if we can provide a one-stop shop to let them know what we have to offer it's of benefit to everyone," says Mr Dryden.

The database will also provide an opportunity for local artists to connect and network.

If you're interested in being listed on the database - which will be a link on TCDC’s website please email your details and any online links to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The unbelievable story of Jonathan Vaughan’s birth

When Dana Vaughan, wife of Whitianga chiropractor, Grant Vaughan fell pregnant with Jonathan, their third child, neither she nor Grant expected the curve ball life was to throw at them.

Dana was born and bred in Romania. She met Grant on her OE to New Zealand. They fell in love, got married and in the ten years since then Dana has only been home for two short visits.

Earlier this year, when she was about 35 weeks pregnant, Dana’s dad had a severe stroke. She and Grant immediately decided she should go to Romania and take Daniel, their two year-old, with her. They knew Dana was OK to get there, but, wouldn’t be able to travel back before baby was born as she wouldn’t be allowed to fly after becoming 36 weeks pregnant. Oldest son, Reuben stayed home with Grant as he was to start school two weeks later. "It was hard not being there for Reuben’s first day at school," Dana said.

"Unfortunately my dad died the day after we had booked our plane tickets. So, I knew I was going to his funeral. It was really sad that I didn’t get to see him before he passed away.

"I knew it was going to be tough to get everything organised for Jonathan’s birth, including all the paperwork, but nothing really prepared me for what I had to go through. Romania has really changed a lot in the ten years I’ve been away."

Dana first had to find an obstetrician. And that’s when the extent of the corruption in the country really hit her. "As a Romanian citizen, I’m entitled to free medical care," she said. "But when I went to see the doctor, who came highly recommended, he was very interested in discussing how much I would pay him for my treatment, in cash, which was more than a week’s pay for most Romanians. It was quite sad as the government also paid him a lot of money to look after me."

Dana had to have a caesarean section and family friends prepared her for what to expect in hospital. "Basically I had to have access to a wad of cash, otherwise no one was going to do anything for me in hospital. And that’s exactly how it was. The nurses and hospital staff are all paid by the government, but they expected me to pay them also to take me to the bathroom, to give me my medication and to have my sheets changed.

"There was initially a woman in the same delivery room as me who didn’t have money and they literally kicked her out of her bed to make room for someone with cash just as she was going into labour. It was very sad and upsetting."

But if Dana thought it was tough in hospital, the outside was 20 times worse. Jonathan was born as a Romanian citizen and to be able to travel back to New Zealand, he needed a passport. And to get a passport, he needed a birth certificate, which seemingly was impossible to get without Grant being in Romania.

"It was really frustrating," Dana said. "Initially it looked as if nobody knew what to do as they were not used to dealing with someone from outside of Romania. Later I realised that was only half the story and some officials were just putting me off, waiting for me to, well, bribe them."

A week after giving birth and still sore from the caesarean, Dana found herself walking all over town, from one government office to the next, for up to five hours a day, five days straight.

Initially, as Dana didn’t have their marriage certificate with her, she was told she couldn’t have Grant put on Jonathan’s birth certificate as the father and Jonathan would need to take her maiden name as Grant was not there to claim him. In a mad rush Grant ordered their marriage certificate back in New Zealand before having it translated, notarised and overnight couriered to Dana.

When Dana presented their marriage certificate to the government officials she was dealing with, she was told, "That’s nice, now you need a declaration from your husband, accepting Jonathan as his and giving consent for him to get a Romanian birth certificate and passport."

"I really couldn’t help to wonder why they haven’t told me that in the first place," Dana said.

Finally Dana was put onto the head of the local Births and Deaths Department, a kind man who Dana described as a being like a grandfather. "He took me personally to have Jonathans birth certificate made and waited with me for almost an hour while the paperwork was completed."

Bright and early the following morning Dana, with her sister as moral support, presented herself at the local Passport Office with all the appropriate forms filled out and signed and a pile of supporting documents in hand. The clerk looked the paperwork over, then roughly pushed it back to Dana and said, "The mother or father needs to sign these forms." It turned out that Dana’s last name on Jonathan’s birth certificate was Vaughan, but her passport was still in her maiden name, Lingurar.

For two hours Dana and her sister tried to convince the Passport Office to accept Grant and Dana’s New Zealand marriage certificate as proof of her identity, but they wouldn’t budge. Another visit to the helpful head of the Births and Deaths Department revealed that Dana would need to apply for a Romanian marriage licence in order to legally change her name in Romania, allowing her to apply for a Romanian ID card which she could use as proof of her identity. "It was enough to make my head spin," Dana said.

Finally, ten days later and no less than six weeks after Jonathan’s birth, Dana, Daniel, Jonathan and Dana’s mum, Rozalia were ready to board a plane back to New Zealand.

"It was wonderful coming back, but I want to point out not all in Romania is bad," Dana said. "That lovely man in charge of the Births and Deaths Department gave me confidence that there are some good people out there. And the Romanian government is really working hard to persuade people not to pay bribes. If it’s going to work, I don’t know. My dad wasn’t even 60 when he passed away. I was told that many men in Romania die from strokes at that age. It’s the stress. Things have really changed a lot since the fall of communism and for many people not for the better. "We all really need to appreciate what we have in New Zealand.

"As a family, our only issue now is to get citizenship for Jonathan. He came into New Zealand as a tourist and all the New Zealand government wants us to do is prove that I was pregnant when Daniel and I left for my dad’s funeral. I can understand that. And somehow, compared to what I had to go through in Romania, I don’t think that’s going to be too difficult to prove."

Outstanding performance by United Travel in Whitianga

Monett Johnston has travelled throughout her life, spends her working hours arranging travel for clients and recently won top honours for the many hours she spent outside of work studying a diploma in unique travel destinations.

The diploma is with the United Travel group and allowed Monett to learn more about the many unusual places there are to see in the world - knowledge that is benefitting the United Whitianga branch, of which Monett is the owner, and its clientele.

"We get to know our clients so well," said Monett. "We are able to help them choose what’s best with any product for them to get the most out of their holiday experience. Through all the training that we have, our clients see all the different products that are available that they won’t necessarily find online and we can work through the process to fit their budget and aspirations.

"I think it’s great that Kiwis get off to see all these places, there’s so much to see and do and go back to see again."

United Travel in Whitianga took out some of the company’s top awards at a recent travel conference, the United Travel Frontliners Conference, which recognises the hard work and achievements of people in the industry. There are 53 United Travel agencies around New Zealand.

The conference, attended by over 190 delegates, started with a welcome function at the Crowne Plaza Auckland. During the night, delegates got into teams and constructed 14 push bikes, which were then given away to the Child Cancer Society - United Travel’s charity.

Travel agents Jody Simpson, Diana Williams, Julie Pepper and Julie Sloane won top sales awards while Monett won top honours overall for completion of her diploma.

"It’s great when you think we’re a small agency in the scheme of things and we’re very proud to be part of the United Travel group anyway," said Monett.

Monett was a travel agent before she had children and continued to travel all her life. "I’ve taken my children with me and they assured me they’ve had a great life. I’ve been to a lot of places, I loved Egypt and Jordan. I really enjoyed my travels in South America and in Botswana, Africa too. The Middle East was another incredible destination. How can you pinpoint one favourite?"

She said the development of online travel sites that allow people to book trips themselves has not been a negative thing for the industry and online bookings have begun to plateau. "You use it for a research tool, but when you want somebody that’s with you all the way, you are going to go to a travel agent. There could be weeks and weeks of planning and you wouldn’t always know how to do it on your own."

Clients are from around the Coromandel but also based in Auckland and Tauranga, keeping the Whitianga staff as their travel agents even when they’ve moved out of the area themselves.

As for travel around New Zealand, Monett says she has done plenty of that too. What is her favourite destination in this country? "Whitianga," she smiled,
without a pause for thought.

RSA launches new national association

A new national association has been launched yesterday by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA), providing an opportunity for all New Zealanders to become a member of the movement.

The new National Association makes it possible for Kiwis to “join up,” even if they don’t live near an RSA club and regardless of whether they have any family or service connections to the military.

RSA National President Don McIver said their research shows many people are under the impression that you need to have served in the military or have some service connection to join the RSA.

“I think many people have traditionally regarded the RSA as a place for old soldiers, but for RSAs around the country, that is not the case. They are community hubs where people come to enjoy each other’s company, meet friends and family and enjoy the hospitality that is on offer.”

However, with changes in society, not everyone wants to join a local club, said Mr McIver.

“People want to be able to engage with their peers online, and that is what prompted us to set up a national association. We know there are people who support the RSA’s ideals and objectives and this gives them the chance to be active.

“Kiwis from around the world will be able to join the new national association via our website and connect with our cause on an international scale.”

The new association also provides welfare for war veterans and their families and assists with remembrance for New Zealand’s service men and women.

The National Association will also present an avenue for service personnel who don’t have a permanent address to join and participate in the RSA.

Mr McIver says the new association means anyone from anywhere can sign up to join the RSA online and, in doing so, support the work of the RSA at both a national and community level.

“Over recent years, we have seen a growing interest from younger New Zealanders to learn more about their family military history. We’ve seen this support in the growing numbers attending services on Anzac day and among those wearing poppies with pride.

“Many young Kiwis are keen to know more about our war heritage and be connected with that, and through an RSA membership, where we will focus on engaging with our members online, they can be,” said Mr McIver.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 71 years old - our new National Association enables you to be part of a force for good in New Zealand that champions the Anzac spirit and everything it stands for.”

Film maker Sir Peter Jackson was one of four “founding members” of the new national association. The other three founding members were Lieutenant General Timothy Keating MNZM, Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Phillip Meyer FNZIM, FAIM, FFIN, Investment Banker and Lieutenant General (Rtd) Richard Rhys Jones CNZM, former Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force.

Sir Peter, taking time out from work on the third and final instalment of The Hobbit trilogy, said that New Zealand’s war service has special meaning to him and he was honoured to become an early member of the association.

“The RSA means a lot to me - my Dad used to spend every Friday night with his mates at the Pukerua Bay RSA, and when I was old enough - well, almost old enough - he would take me along. I got to know veterans of both World Wars and it’s a memory I hold dear. I do feel like an impostor, accepting an RSA badge with no military service - but I will proudly do so in honour of Kiwi veterans past and present.”

The RSA National Association will provide a range of benefits to its members, allowing them to access Kiwi hospitality at great prices through the network of RSA clubs around the country, as well as social and sporting activities. It will also give them access to RSL clubs in Australia. Members will be provided with an RSA Club Card, granting them exclusive benefits and deals with a range of quality trusted brands.

To find out more about joining the RSA National Association, visit https://rsa.org.nz/join  or follow the RSA on Twitter @RSA_National or Facebook RSA National.

Body found in bush off 309 Road

Waikato Police can confirm that the body of a man was found in a bush area off 309 Road between Whitianga and Coromandel at approximately 2:00pm yesterday.

Police were deployed to the area to commence a search for a man reported missing by a member of the public.

The body of the man was discovered before Police arrived.

Police are carrying out a scene examination to try and establish the circumstances surrounding the death.

There is no further information available at this time.

The Simpsons from Evolve are the sort of family the Mercury Bay future should be built on

Justin Simpson, owner of Evolve Hair Lounge in Whitianga with wife Michele, is a born and bred Kuaotunu local, only leaving Mercury Bay after school to train as a hairdresser in Hamilton.

Asking Justin why hairdressing, he dryly answered, "I thought that was an easy way to find a good looking wife."

Talking more to Justin and Michele, it became clear they’re the sort of family the future of Whitianga and the wider Mercury Bay area should be built on.

After qualifying as a hairdresser, Justin jumped on a plane to England for his great OE, where he did everything, except hairdressing. Consequently, he had no reason to expect to meet a good looking wife. Which he did, at the BBC in London, where Michele was working as a receptionist.

In England Justin was part of a band called "Pivotal" and in 1995 and early 1996 they, and Michele, toured around New Zealand. After the tour Justin thought it good to show Michele where he grew up.

"We really planned to come to Kuaotunu for only six weeks to visit Justin’s family, but we just never left," said Michele. "I couldn’t believe it, the roads were gravel, no public transport and, for a city girl, no night clubs. Talk about a culture shock.

"The sea, the beaches, the scenery and the people, that’s what made us decide to stay."

During their first four years in Mercury Bay, which saw the birth of their two daughters - Jade and Tia, Justin worked as a mobile hairdresser and soon built himself a reputation as a cut (no pun intended) above the rest. When he became too busy, a move to a salon was inevitable.

"We found this old house in Campbell Street in Whitianga opposite the Police Station and turned the front part into a salon, while we moved into the back part," Justin said. "That was the birth of Evolve. Michele became manager of the business and soon we had enough work for another hairdresser and room to take on an apprentice as well.

"For me it has always been important to create opportunities for apprentices. I would never have qualified if a salon in Hamilton didn’t take a punt on me."

The growth continued and in 2006 Justin and Michele opened a much bigger Evolve in Albert Street. Both a hair and beauty salon, before long 10 staff members were on the business’s payroll. "One day Justin and I looked at each other and started talking about why we really decided to stay in Kuaotunu back in 1996 - the sea, the beaches, the scenery and the people - and we had no time to enjoy anyone or anything," said Michele. "So we decided to let the Albert Street lease run out and move back to Campbell Street. That all happened in 2012.

"We were again living in Kuaotunu at that time, so Campbell Street became just a salon, but, in a way, it was good to move back home."

The past two years were some of the best Justin and Michele have ever experienced in the hairdressing industry. Evolve is again offering a full range of beauty treatments (under the name "The Beauty Room"), Bayley Sayers - an apprentice with Justin and Michele for the past three years - was earlier this year awarded Waikato Apprentice of the Year by Hito, a leading hair and beauty industry training organisation, Justin and Michele have time to enjoy the sea, the beaches, the scenery and the people of Mercury Bay and a loyal clientele from far and wide keep on returning to the Evolve team (in addition to Justin, Michele and Bayley, there are hairstylists Anoushka and Ingrid and beauty therapists Sanoma and Caroline).

"Yip, it’s almost as if people are buying baches in Mercury Bay to be close to Evolve," Justin said tongue in the cheek.

In the future for Justin and Michele is possibly an Evolve range of hair and beauty products, made mostly from Coromandel-sourced ingredients. "It’s something Justin had been working on since 2000," said Michele. "But only now does he have some time to think about it again."

And more apprentices are in the future too, including 16-year-old Tia, who’s already working with mum and dad as part of the Mercury Bay Area School Gateway Programme. "She’s our succession plan," Justin said, again tongue in the cheek.

So, here’s why what Justin and Michele have done is important for the future of the wider Mercury Bay Area. If you grew up in the area, go away, see what life is like further afield, but come back, make your life here. And if you met your partner while you were away, bring him or her back with you.
After all, the sea, the beaches, the scenery and the people will never leave you. Just ask Justin. And just ask Michele.

Local artists can apply for funding assistance now

Teaching art to children allows Linda Brajkovich to help them open the doors to a world of creativity. 

Last year she was one of the beneficiaries of a Thames Coromandel District Council Creative Community Arts Grant which provided $500 to help pay towards canvases, paints and brushes for her after school art classes.

Applications for this year's Creative Community Grant opened today and closes 4pm on Friday, 31 October. A fund of $12,000 is available.

Linda, who is now retired and lives in Te Puru, has been providing after school art classes for children from Thames and the Thames Coast for 18 years.

"I have classes almost every day after school and the children start from around age five," said Linda. "We become friends and stay friends forever.

"With the money I received from the grant, I've been able to hold two big public exhibitions of the children's oil paintings. One exhibition was at the Goldfields Mall in Thames and the second will be at the Te Puru flower show on 8 November at the Te Puru Hall.

"I've always been creative. I used to design clothes and do screen painting and had three stores until my son got sick with leukaemia when he was two years old."

Over the next 13 years Linda then home schooled her son and two daughters.

"The children's father was also an amazing jeweller and potter and so we were always doing creative, arty things," said Linda. "You can't make a mistake with art, if you can be creative you can make something out of nothing." 

So, if like Linda, you're involved in local and creative arts, now is the time to apply for funding from the Creative Communities Arts Grant.



Have you made any New Year's resolutions for 2019?

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.