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New seawall and bigger berths

$20M Whitianga Marina upgrade ‘might never have been built’

By Tony Stickley

Just over 30 new berths will be officially commissioned early next month as part of a huge, multi-million dollar upgrade of Whitianga Marina.

The revamp, which is estimated to have cost $15 million to $20 million, will mean that Whitianga Marina will be able to boast being home port to some of the biggest, most expensive, top-end cruising boats in New Zealand. But with prices of everything from cement and steel soaring at the time the contract was signed, it seems that Whitianga was lucky to get the new seawall at all.

Work on removing the old rock armour wall, which had been in place since the marina first opened 34 years ago, and replacing it with something more fit for purpose, started in earnest in March last year. Despite 12 months of niggling delays caused firstly by Covid, then by one storm after another and more recently by difficulties in getting deliveries of major components because of road closures, the official opening of the ultra-modern marina has been pencilled in for April 6, only slightly behind schedule.

Whitianga Marina Society chairman, Calum McGillivray, said that everyone was delighted with what Pukekohe-based Heron Construction, who won the contract for the project, had created at the marina. “We are all extremely pleased with the way it has gone, as are the older people within the society and the new berth-holders. We are slightly behind the planned schedule due to Covid, then the weather, and now – most crucially – road restrictions,” Calum said.

“It has meant that some of the bigger loads, such as concrete pontoons and berth ‘fingers’ [sort of jetties for the new berths] having to be brought in by barge from Whangarei, where Heron Construction has a big construction yard.”He said that Heron’s crew had to work in terrible weather last winter and more recently as well. “Yes, we are a little behind, but we are extremely happy with the high standard of the project.”

Thinks could have turned out completely differently. In fact, it was a close-run thing whether the new seawall and berths would be built at all. “We signed the contract on December 15, 2021 when the price of everything, including steel, was spiralling upwards from day to day. Fortunately, we had a fixed-price contract,” Calum said. “If it had been a week later, the wall would never have been built.”

The marina currently has 190 moderate-sized berths, but the new berths - made possible by replacing the old seawall within the same footprint - mean that they would be able to accommodate an extra 31 larger, top-end cruising craft. “The engineering at the time the marina was first set up stated that the rocks on the estuary wall should be of a certain size,” Calum said. “However, time has proved that the size of the rocks was not sufficient for the job. This was one of the reasons for removing the old rock wall and building the current concrete wall. This also allowed us to use our footprint in a more effective way, putting in an extra 31 berths, without in any way extending into the estuary. It has all been done within our existing footprint.”

The works were being financed by the pre-sale of those new berths, measuring mainly 18m and 20m, with one measuring 22m.

He said that the cost of the project was commercially sensitive and the new berth holders might not like their individual costs publicized. However, all up, the total cost of the project would be “in the vicinity of $15 million to $20 million. It is a very big investment,”said Calum. “Some of the owners’ boats cost many millions of dollars. They will bring a new dynamic to the entire make-up of the marina society,” Calum said.

Undoubtedly, the upgrade would be good for businesses and job opportunities in Whitianga. Berth holders were “strong supporters” of local restaurants and other facilities around the town. He said employment opportunities from the increased number of berths would flow across a wide range of trades servicing boats, not only from the marina but also those moored on the Waterways. “As far as we are concerned, this is going to have huge benefits for the town.”

The revamp follows another major project at the marina about 18 months ago, installing new fuel docks which coincided with the constructions of several new berths at the time. For the technically minded, the sea-break wall is constructed with 950mm metal piles vibrated into the seabed. They are joined together by concrete panels, the exterior of which features artwork created by Ngati Hei cultural artist James Webster.

As for the old seawall, the 24,000 cubic metres of rock removed have been gifted to the Thames-Coromandel District Council, along with a large volume of silt and sand, for use elsewhere. The old rock wall had reserve status which meant it was accessible to the public.

“The new wall will also be held as a reserve and open to the public for pedestrians to walk along in complete safety, as there are handrails on each side. I am quite confident that the new seawall will become a ‘must-do’ for visitors and tourists visiting Whitianga in the future,” Calum said.

He added that the development of the new wall had created no pollution at all. “The proof is, just look at the fish and the shell fish that live there. We had very stringent conditions laid down by Environment Waikato for water turbidity tests for cloudiness, and rightly so.” Ironically, dirty water from the surrounding hills and forestry areas was depositing silt on the local beaches and estuary.

“ It’s not the boats creating pollution,” Calum said.

Caption: An aeriel view of the Marina during construction.

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