Sunday, September 5, 2010


“It's a kayakers' coast,” remarked a viewer, on seeing our new DVD on the Tutukaka coastline, “ -with so many coves and reefs.” Over the years, since shifting here in 1968, Jan and I have dived every bit of it with delight and wonder. It's a divers' coast too. The Middle Gable is one of my best dive spots ever.

There is a vision doing the rounds of coastal people that sees the Whangarei east coast as a destination for those from all the world over who are drawn to wilderness, rugged coastal scenery, rainforest and the undersea world. At present we have a healthy flow of diver visitors to the Poor Knights Islands that keeps a major fleet of charter boats busy. But most of the overseas people stay only one day in the area because other potentials have not been publicised. I have met tourists staying in Tutukaka who did not even know about Matapouri!

With the Poor Knights Marine Reserve as an international icon this coast is on track for an exciting future: Adventure Coast? Action Coast? Green Horizon? As an ecotourist friendly zone, what are its assets? How could they be enhanced and presented to the traveller? People at Whangarei Heads have plans for a Mainland Island out there. By constructing a predator-proof fence the area around Whangarei Heads could be developed as a spectacular wildlife sanctuary. Then they are considering a By -Water -to -Walks scheme, proposing a system of jetties and walkways around the harbour, that minimises traffic: ferry returns you to your car-rather like the cream trip up north. Adapting this concept to the Tutukaka coast and beyond, a Walks to Water theme could be developed where you park your car and walk to the sea's edge - a different path to a secluded bay every day. Above and below, a headland coast open to exploration by shoe or fin or kayak paddle.

From north to south we could enumerate, describe, map, sign post and upgrade our public access assets and using the Walk to Water promotional theme, invite visitors to enjoy these assets with as much local guidance as they could wish for. A sponsored tidal noticeboard updated daily, would be a wise amenity for coastal visitors. A major issue is car security and monitoring of key locations by volunteers / security cameras.

We now have a rainforest trail south from Matapouri Bay to Ngunguru, via the mighty giant kauri Tane Moana. It might be linked up with Bratty's Reserve on Pukenui Road and the Crawford Memorial Reserve and extended up to Sandy Bay. There is already a track from Sandy Bay north to Whananaki.

From Ngunguru River and its entrance beaches to Wellington's Bay, the Henry Wellington Reserve, Kowharewa Bay, Tutukaka Lighthouse Reserve, Matapouri mangroves [so dive -worthy!] and beaches, the Soda Spring Reserve, Whale Bay Reserve, Woolley's and Sandy Bays, we have a coastal wonderland that changes every day, dawn to dusk, month by month, by moonlight and quite magically, even on dull, overcast days. I have enjoyed Matapouri at the height of a gale, from headland and from sandhill.

In Tutukaka I see several potential walks that could be developed. One, at my suggestion, is now under way: the former road from the marina down harbour to the old jetty site where there could be an information board about the HMS Buffalo five-month visit 1837-8 with possible rock cairn made from her sandstone ballast stones, 33 tons of them, now on the harbour floor.

Another I call Mystery Bay: bordering the harbour out beyond Becks Bay: a track through long grass leads to a seat overlooking harbour entrance; it then descends a rocky ridge line, crosses a stream and reaches a rock outcrop above sea. A proper track could be made to loop up west side of the valley and rejoin the main path out to Lighthouse. Mystery Bay was once a location for a Maori village filmset [Film titled Adventurers made in seventies.] Very few people ever visit this D.O.C. owned bay. The whole Lighthouse Reserve peninsula might even receive protection with a predator proof fence…

With such an appropriate inspiring promotional theme, and a new vision for this incredibly diverse coast, a great range of ancillary services would arise to create employment for the young.

I see opportunities such as at Kaikoura and on Banks Peninsula where people go for three day coast walks with a guide. On successive days of a holiday it would be delightful to picnic out by the lighthouse in Tutukaka Reserve; explore from Ngunguru to Kowharewa Bay and walk from Matapouri to Woolleys and Sandy Bay, returning along the rainforest trail. Promoted on the Internet as a Poor Knights / Walk to Water package this would lead to a growth of existing accomodation services; back packers' hostels and farm homestays along with coastal boutiques, picture galleries, craft outlets, watersports gear and boat hire; bird watching and kayaking tours; horse riding and mountain bikes; trips to vineyards, organic gardens, orchards, olive groves, coastal plant nurseries; business retreats, disability walkways, a boardwalk for the blind, coffee and tea shops - courtesy cars up to Whananaki for Te Araroa track walkers; guided trips to the nearby Tahere Waterfall Reserve and Abbey Caves- this list can readily be extended. I have already written them all up.

But then the vision needs to be much wider and embrace the whole of Northland with its incredible diversity within a short range. Tutukaka should be a green visitor hub from which all the riches of the North can be readily accessed. Jan and I have spent years creating an archive for this we call Riches of the North, which of course, includes this coast.

The vision must include a major Maori input. On the Daintree River aboriginal forest people take visitors on guided walks exploring the medicinal and cultural uses of trees, concluding with a meal of traditional food. With assets like the Soda Spring Reserve and Crawford Memorial Reserve, walks on the wild side have a potential once visitor numbers increase.

As we consider such a future we should face up to all the problems that threaten such a vision: possums, stoats, wild cats, wandering dogs and goats; water pollution from inadequate sewerage; protection of kaimoana; car pilfering, inappropriate local body planning are a few that come to mind.

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