Travelling around Northland for the Christmas period I got to see some wonderful holiday destinations. Northland is a treasure trove of hidden delights, small towns, secluded beaches, favourite fishing spots and historical landmarks telling the rich history of our county’s origins.
But there’s also the challenge of maintaining core infrastructure such as roads, water and waste services and tourist amenities to cope with the influx of people who make a regular pilgrimage north each holiday period. I took the opportunity to take my children to Te Rerenga Wairua or Cape Reinga. In Maori tradition this is the place where upon death spirits make their own pilgrimage to the ‘leaping place of spirits’ to take their final journey to the underworld.
The path from the revamped car park to the famed lighthouse at the Northern tip of Te Rerenga Wairua has been thoughtfully laid out on a short downhill walk. The storyboard along the path integrates Maori and early contact history of the area. Numbers of tourists provide a steady stream of people who enjoy the beautiful scenery. There are the tourist groups who are catered for in the conventional manner – with tourist operators. However it seems that no one has captured the free and independent traveller market who are left to their own devices. This can translate as visitors looking for something different and ‘walking off the beaten track’ in search of that special place for a picture and evidence of that bucket list trip!
Now the roads to Te Rerenga Wairua are tarsealed so there are no complaints on that front, the toilet amenities are well cared for my one gripe was seeing litter occasionally strewn along the path and perhaps that was due to an insufficient supply of bins.
This experience was a far cry from another day trip to Mitimiti on the rugged west coast. The loose metal roads via Herekino and Pangaru gave me a distinct feeling that some areas got more attention for roading spend primarily due to the tourism benefit rather than the community wellbeing. That should change. These small communities are places that thrive on the legacy contribution of our greatest leaders like Dame Whina Cooper. Yet the roads look like a patchwork of ‘make-do’ arrangements around areas where parts of the road have slipped away. After a fairly long windy trip, you finally arrive at Matihetihe where a local marae and church adorn the road leading to a small west coast settlement.
Mitimiti is the place you would visit yo experience that ‘Old New Zealand’ feel – raw, rugged, still relatively untouched and evidently treated as if no-one should ever go to the place. All I can say is that as people make the decision to ‘move home’ there are huge tracts of land that have some potential for development or biodiversity protection but it will require infrastructure investment to make it a truly viable option.
Then there is the Karikari Penninsula which boasts local beaches such as Tokerau, Rangiputa, Puwheke and Mātai Bay. Whatuwhiwhi has benefited from increasing settlement of retirees and non-resident holiday homes. I won’t assume that these holiday homes belong only to Aucklander’s as I met people from across the country who have chosen the peninsula as their little piece of paradise. Evidence of the potential for further growth and development is visible along Tokerau beach – but so too is a local desire to protect what is special and unique. Nearby the foreign owned winery is a stark reminder that those on fixed incomes living permanently on the peninsula could be priced out of the community with burgeoning rates and having to bear the cost of non-resident lifestyles.
Water service is reliant on tanks or tapping into a local bore and if I rely on local knowledge, there are some households that function on insecure water sources not well monitored by anyone. In dry months there is pressure for water supply and in wet months the potential of contamination can increase as the overflow of stormwater puts pressure on wastewater systems. The further north you travel the more varied the water supply and service story becomes.
More can be done to ensure that small rural communities get the same reliable, safe water services as any other community – but it will require leadership and goodwill. Waste management was another interesting aspect of our holiday experience as we were mindful to maintain a recycling regime and ensure that we were being good manuwhiri (visitors) – which is more that I can say for some who carelessly left household rubbish stacked along the roadside where there was no discernible pick-up point. But I applaud the number of recycling stations clearly marked in the vicinity of our holiday travels and those who made a conscious effort to take their waste with them after the ‘bbq by the beach’.
My final reflection having now returned home is a deep regard and respect for our small coastal holiday spots who absorb the pressure of holidaymakers in all sorts of ways. If we were to take a leaf out of other international destination and charge a visitors levy or enable a tiered tourist cost for tourist experiences it would need to be returned to the community to invest in the local amenities, services and wellbeing. The premium for going ‘off the beaten track’ to capture and experience what is still raw and natural must count for something. Oh well that would require an important conversation with the communities affected and some local and central government leadership in the conversation. That no doubt will be a subject on my to do list for 2019 – Happy New Year to you all!!