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Whitianga - “Jewel in the Crown”?

By Bill Mclean

During our holidays in various parts of New Zealand, we realised that we were becoming a regular visitor to Whitianga. What attracted us was the easy access to a variety of beaches. The town provided all our needs and was developing. So, in 2008, we bought a home in South Highway, which then, was the main entry into town.

Now the only thing in life that is constant, is change. Our first change was our insurance company refusing our request for cover. Given that a previous owner had cover, we asked why they had refused us. Their response was that the house was built on a flood plain and was therefore a high risk to them.

I asked them how old their information of the area was and gave them 24 hours to check, and perhaps reconsider the risk factor.

It seems they hadn’t considered the Hopper Development Project. We were signed up the next day after the insurance company did some homework on the current situation in Whitianga. Now getting back to change; - the second one that confronted us.

1.In 2003, New Zealand Transport Association built a by-pass road extending SH25 Highway directly to Buffalo Beach Road and motorists heading north now had the choice of whether or not to go through town. Also in 2003, Joan Gaskell Drive with the over-bridge was opened.

2). In 2003/4, a canal was cut through South Highway to allow homeowners with boats in the Hopper development canals access to and from the river.

In the meantime, I was involved with a small group of locals concerned with coastal erosion. The immediate area of concern was the beachfront from the Whitianga wharf to the toilets opposite the old hospital. With the by-pass now in use, NZTA had passed the responsibility for road maintenance on this stretch of road to TCDC. Their policy, and rightly so, is to respond when issues may occur that could damage their (NZTA) roads. However, a situation of high tides and onshore winds was developing, and the previous tide had shown damage in the rock wall by the toilets. I spoke to and showed photos of the damage to senior local TCDC management and asked them to observe the next high tide with me that night to verify my concern that the wall was at risk. They did and agreed that the situation was urgent and immediately made their concerns known to the appropriate organisation(s). The next morning, trucks carrying rocks and with local manpower strengthened the risk area, (and beyond, by a few metres) and the facility was saved. Even today it is doing well, withstanding Hale and Gabrielle. Their action was taken under, “emergency” conditions and the paperwork would follow.

Now that is an example of what can be done and, in my opinion, must be done. For many residents and visitors, their reason for coming here is because our beaches are a very strong drawcard. To maintain this, we must show evidence of protecting access and safety to all beaches and homes relatively near a beach.

So, my concern is that for Whitianga to remain the Jewel in the Crown, we must encourage people to come here and live and/or visit. Every new homeowner will contribute dollars for rates and visitors will support local businesses, and encourage other local and overseas visitors, both of whom will provide a boost of dollars to support and maintain our town. Surely the recent damage to the Hoggin Path and adjacent native trees, the Boating Club etc should be a wakeup call.

It is my view that if we don’t protect our beaches, (preferably with rock as nature has shown), we run the risk of losing our status as a desirable home and tourist attraction and the town will simply decline. I also have concern with the so called ‘Foreshore Management Group’, suggesting properties at risk could consider retreat.

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