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Cathedral Cove - the future

An editorial by Pauline Stewart

Maybe I’m overly cynical, but the notice recently from DOC that the Cathedral Cove walkway will not be opened this summer sounds a lot like “full of sound and fury signifying nothing, “ or more simply a justification for not spending the money…….”.

From letter to Editor by Pieta Begley ,Whitianga

Published in The Informer29 August2023

“There is a very disappointed Hahei and Hot Water Beach community. Speaking to cafes and restaurants and businesses in Cooks beach and ferry landing they are very clear they are affected directly by the fact that cathedral cove is closed and (the toilets have been removed for some time now just to get the message across)

The news is a blow to the whole Peninsula. And a blow to visitors and tourists. It still is a glorious experience to see the cove by water and to be able to access by beach but it is far less glorious if if one cannot use the toilets at the far end of the beach…..”

From Your Summer Magazine Page 89 October, 2023 -published and available from The Informer. “Cathedral Cove was gifted by Vaughan and Dawn Harsant to the people of New Zealand so that all could enjoy its unspoilt beauty and that it could never be subdivided or built on.” (The words of Vaughan Harsant.) The Harsant knew Cathedral Cove as the jewel in the Hahei crown it is one of the jewels in new Zealand’s crown. How did this gift come about? How does someone own something like Cathedral Cove to gift it? In short, no one does own the actual structure of the Cathedral shaped, white ignimbrite rock, but the 88 acres along the beach front and surrounding hills were purchased by Vaughan’s father in 1915 from Robert Wigmore had purchased it in the 1870’s. The land had been abandoned and unoccupied by Maori since 1818 when Ngapuhi came and almost wiped out the Ngati Hei people. They called Cathedral Cove Te Whanganui-A-Hei (The Great Bay of Hei). It’s a beautiful name and still used by local Ngati Hei.

The whole question of ownership is not very far removed from what is happening at Cathedral Cove. By that I am meaning the lack of progress on the fixing of the track to enable people to walk down to Cathedral Cove. There is conversation that relates it is not just about storm damage. Is there some bigger reason why DOC has not acted proactively? Is it more than cost? It is quite some time since geo-tech reports and engineering reports have all been presented. It is said they are thorough and there is more than one geo- tech report. With all of this no one has said it is impossible. Some engineers have come up independently with plans to rebuild the track. There will be slips and rock falls for as far into the future as anyone can see, for as long as we have rainfall.

One needs to be a private detective to actually really know what all the aspects behind the non- opening Cathedral Cove are.

But there are some elements worth considering as to why.

1) What does gifting to the Crown mean?

2) Can you gift something to the Crown when you technically might not own it? The answer to that question could be NO. But in the light of the Treaty of Waitangi that gift of Vaughan Harsant is safely with the Crown. No matter who gifted it or when it was gifted, it is safe with the Crown.

So 88 acres which provides access to Cathedral Cove is entrusted to the Crown. The word ‘owned’ suggests something akin to private ownership and that is not a good comparison. This concept of ownership is not in traditional Maori culture. It is very familiar to Europeans and most westernised societies but whether people own something or not in these societies, it is accepted the the power of the Crown is such that it is entrusted to safely hold on to an ‘item’ (a cove) for perpetuity. How it is managed and who manages it is a matter for the Crown to decide.

Doc manages a lot of Crown land. It is a department of the Government and its brief is to care for and manage this land.

What if DOC were to hand over the management of some of the land presently under its responsibility? What if Cathedral Cove was in that basket of land? As Doc could not do this without the power of the Crown, then perhaps this explains the inaction.

Could this then be a reason for DOC not acting and simply stating that the danger is so great that only inaction on the track and the Cove is the course to take?

But there is action from other quarters. In these times it is said that Ngati Hei look on the recent weather events of early 2023 as a sign that it’s time for a transformative change in tourism on the Coromandel Peninsula. They are signaling a return to indigenous stewardship with regard to significant tourism assets, including Cathedral Cove, being transferred partially or wholly to Ngati Hei. They have an interest in transforming tourism in and around Cathedral Cove. They would like to expand the attraction footprint. They desire a radical new approach. I say ‘they’ but we can assume not all Ngati Hei would be involved at this stage but it is a proposal and should be shared.

Theirs is a noble plan - desiring and suggesting ‘there’s an immediate need to manage and realign tourist expectations.’

This is not sowing seed in the wind at a meeting over coffee or a chat on the marae. There are indicative budgets and papers have been prepared.

There is knowledge of this among the ‘powers that be’ in DOC. Why is there only public discussion about slips and rock falls and physical danger when there is much more apparently being discussed?

It could just be seems as an essential change. There should not be a reader or resident out there who by now is not willing to face change.

But the nagging question is where is the sharing of information which is obligatory if we are part of a democracy and if the discussion about this kind of change, effects the Crown?

The Crown is the total of the entities of citizenship of this land. It’s a bit clumsy but it works most of the time if there is a commitment to make it work. It happens to be a British system which replaced a tribal system. There is no going back to the tribes of yesteryear or going back to British aristocratic superiority. New Zealand is working to dissolve this.

Cathedral Cove should not be argued over or be the subject of secrets and litigation.

We can’t do this in corridors where the corridors of information are narrow and exclusive.

DOC is a Department of the Government, therefore a servant of the people. There is every reason for them to share the full picture of Cathedral Cove’s current status. That status includes information about Ngati Hei’s apparent proposals. Ngait Hei settled this land before the European and any other immigrants except Moriori. Ngati Hei were chased from their land by Ngapuhi but it was Ngati Hei’s home and still is. The Crown has to change some things for the home tribe to establish a good future for their people from this land. How to do that? I hope that with open discussion and commitment to listen to one another, that Vaughan and Dawn Harsant’s gift to the Crown and their dream could come about in unison with the dreams and plans of Ngati Hei. However, they will need to include the rest of us.


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