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Hahei 'Great Walks' Meeting - Today!

I vividly recall meeting an Inter-City bus at 5pm at Thames Bus Terminal in 2005, and being inundated with a bunch of bushy-tailed young Germans/Israelis/French who wanted to know immediately the way to Hot-Water Beach/Cathedral Cove (take your choice in both cases).

I suddenly realised that we had a problem, tourist-wise – the Bus Office was closed, and I was useless as a source of such information. Heaven only knows where they ended up, but I suddenly realised that ‘The Lonely Planet’ had a lot to answer for, and we were totally unprepared for the deluge that was to follow.

The residents of Hahei, are naturally somewhat perplexed at the influx that has impressed itself most recently through the bottleneck of Grange Road, to the point where Glenn Leach’s wonderful “visionary” concept of continuous stream of walkers perambulating across their rural idyll has become a nightmare.    

Glenn thought he had secured the route, the way-points, and the services necessary to satisfy everyone. He convinced Ngati Hei of the cultural appropriateness of entertaining manuhiri on a grand scale, and with the promise of their commercial participation, he ensued the employment of the appropriate people by Council. He rushed headlong into the venture that had by early this year extended from north of Kuaotunu to Hot Water Beach and several way-points either side.

Glenn further thought that he had sewn up Hahei participation by appointing a few reliable ‘yes-men’ as ‘stake-holders’ to liaise with the all-powerful Governance Group, dominated by Council representatives. He had mis-calculated – one thing that Hahei is not short of is retired professionals from across the spectrum, including internationally recognised experts in the fields of engineering, infrastructure and traffic engineering. Retired they may be, but toothless and voiceless they are not.   

When these people made their presence felt earlier this year, Leach’s plan suddenly came apart, and the total inadequacy of the research, planning and execution undertaken by Council staff became obvious for all to see, not least the good citizens of Hahei who were right in the middle of the debacle, but rapidly gaining their voice in the local power structure.

The newly established Ratepayers and Stakeholders Association subsumed what Leach preferred to call his Stakeholders Group, and under the leadership of John North and Bill Stead suddenly made their presence felt. All I could observe was the floundering of the large group of recently hired civil servants who all begin to look slightly foolish and redundant as plans have fizzled, and changed in the face of the indisputable logic propounded by John and Bill's group.

There is not much point in making life more difficult for these people who bought into Leach's vision by pointing out the inadequacies of their work, but the traffic research stands out as being outrageously inadequate. It must now be completely re-done, and conclusions drawn before final decisions can be made regarding the manner in which the track, and associated works are to be implemented. Meanwhile, much twiddling of thumbs must be undertaken, and even the Lottery Board Grant placed at risk because of the inability to meet deadlines.

Based on the under-current of opposition to the whole concept that permeated today’s meeting, I would have to question whether the newly representative group of locals will ever be in a position to throw their weight behind the plans. There is simply insufficient conviction evident for Council to proceed with any plan that involves Hahei and Lees Road based on current expectations.

The latter, along with the Purangi remains a major issue, and despite bland assurances that all will be well in the end, they remained unconvincing - Lees Road residents present at the meeting made their concerns regarding the suitability of the road for all intents and purposes very clear. Their concerns will not be met by simply setting up a 500 place car-park on the road-side, and assurances of road-sealing, and free ‘park and ride,’ or alternatively ‘pay & display.’ Clearly, there are commercial considerations that could scuttle either idea if it remains as ill-thought out as it appears at present. I re-visited the complete route post-meeting and remain utterly unconvinced.

Paradoxically, and as alluded to earlier, the Ngati Hei representative - Peter Johnson, exercised his undoubted oratorical skills to explain the historical position of his iwi in regard to its rohe. Manuhiri have always been welcomed, and his group sees nothing different with the provision of facilities surrounding the Great Walks. Peter’s alignment with Leach was particularly obvious, and well spelt out, but there appeared only token support in the room for the Ngati Hei position.

In fact, there was an indication that the participation of Peter’s iwi in the commercial opportunities on offer associated with the Great Walks may have become influential to an untoward degree - while totally convinced of Peter’s sincerity, and desire to see the advantages of managed tourism accrue to his group, their motives may well be questioned by others.

Regardless of the conflicting positions that were brought into the open during this morning’s meeting, the underlying sentiment was clearly one of scepticism, and unwillingness to pursue the current plan, particularly in the absence of adequate research and consultation. Remember that the vast majority of those affected are relatively wealthy middle-class New Zealanders who have but limited interest in the development of the tourist industry on their door-step, even barely disguised antagonism. Their motives may be selfish, but they cannot be ignored.

150 (at least!) of these people - both permanent and holiday home owners, made it perfectly clear that they want their Residents and Stakeholders Group to continue to negotiate, and transmit their demands to Council representatives in order to ensure that if this Great Walk is to proceed, it will be generally on their terms – not on the whims of Leach, or his cohort - legacy ambitions notwithstanding!

His limited term of office does not put him in a strong position to dictate terms.

Here is the TCDC Handout that was distributed at the Meeting - it certainly puts the TCDC spin on the project, but on the other hand it does answer a lot of the questions surrounding what has been going on in the background. As you can see, it fails to outline the explicit objections that have emanated from the Hahei population, and they afetr all are right in the middle of the whole shebang!



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