Auckland City Council actually covers the most densely populated area in NZ, being the CBD where as Mayor I live, but it also is the largest rural council and includes two main islands – Waiheke and Aotea Great Barrier – so this summer break I decided to take my boat to visit these low-density outposts with my wife.
How it came about that the heavily populated CBD is in the same electorate as these two islands is a mystery. Waiheke is a slow train wreck of the meeting of extreme wealth with hippy induced poverty but it seems to work.
Massive vineyard estates mix with humble shacks and boat dwellers and a curious absence of middle class. I had a coffee with their equally curious councillor Mike Lee who is a friendly mix of local flavour and old fashioned socialism that doesn’t always fit well with the landed gentry of the island and is often at odds with the CBD dwellers that he also represents.
Next we visited Rotoroa Island which used to be known as Drunks Island when the Salvation Army ran their programme to dry out alcoholics. Recently, Neil and Annette Plowman used their wealth to rehabilitate the island into a nature reserve for us all to enjoy. Magically one walks past weka through some of the 400,000 native trees generously planted by the Plowmans. It is a treat for us all.
We crossed to Te Kouma Harbour in Coromandel then up to visit the old Coromandel mining town itself. This necessitates navigating the stream from the harbour into the town in the dinghy, to be rewarded by nice old-fashioned pubs and shops.
Nest stop was Elephant Cove in one of the tiny islands north of Coromandel, then up to Port Jackson at the top to wait for kinder weather before tackling the wild channel between there and Aotea. Thankfully the weather settled a day later and off we steamed to Port Fitzroy on Aotea Great Barrier via the Pig Islands reminiscent of Greece.
We had arranged a mooring in Fitzroy as Caulerpa, the festerous invasive seaweed has closed anchorages on the island which made the place delightfully empty for those of us lucky to be there. Local board chairperson Izzy Fordham kindly showed off the island and its excellent roads, the envy of Northlanders, and we discussed the issues associated with the least populated part of Auckland. She is a much loved icon of a real community.
I lucked into fabulous surf at Whangapeau, a 20-minute trudge from Okiwa airstrip. Glenfern regional park at Fitzroy is a must visit but even here I found anger at some of council’s central bureaucratic approaches to enforcing silly building rules sent north from Wellington.
On to Kawau, another island in council’s area and the wonderfully safe Bon Accord Harbour. Mansion House, the home of laudanum addict and early PM of NZ is lovely but sadly a bit dead as a DoC run museum. The old days as a rollicking pub are well gone thanks to our woke culture but I was pleased to see Councillor Hills visiting this regional park and its unstable cliffs.
Next I took the challenge of taking my 14m boat up through Mahurangi Harbour and navigating the winding turns of the river all the way to Warkworth where we anchored right in town overnight and visited local shops and restaurants. We were treated to a Maori-themed light and sound show set in the tall native trees on the opposite banks of the stream. Sadly it was pouring so there was only an audience of three but we clapped and enjoyed it.
A dinner with fellow councillor Greg Sayers who shared his local knowledge, added to a fun meeting on my boat with local MP and minister Mark Mitchell finished off an excellent visit to fast-growing Warkworth.
Back in Auckland, it is reinforcing to be reminded of the wonderful asset our city has in the Hauraki Gulf and how important it is that we look after it. I am a huge supporter of Legasea and the pressure they are putting on the Minister of Fisheries to restrict some of the worst commercial fishing styles like bottom trawling and seine netting. Fish stocks are depleted and Caulerpa is a warning. Similarly, Sea Cleaners’ wonderful work picking up plastic waste from our harbours needs all the support we can give it.
Let’s hope this year sees worthwhile steps to make our city more physically and financially robust than it was shown to be last year. (Wayne Brown, BE FIPENZ)
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