Sunday, 26 January 2020


Making a difference to planet Earth

Known locally around Tairua and Whitianga as “that guy in camo,” Pete Bethune is a hero to most. Others think he’s crazy. He’s been holidaying in the area since 1997, so knows the area well. His mother lives in Tairua.

Pete Bethune became somewhat of a “brand” when the trimaran he skippered was rendered bowless after a run-in with a Japanese whaling ship in 2010. Subsequent media coverage propelled Bethune and the anti-whaling protest into the lounges of the world.

But well before this, our local hero was on a mission to make a difference to the planet. Residents from towns around the Coromandel Peninsula may remember the boat, Earthrace docked at their town’s wharf, before she was shrouded in a cloak of black paint and renamed the Ady Gil.

Pete Bethune was on a different sort of quest back then. He sought to break the world record as the fastest powerboat to circumnavigate the globe - without leaving a carbon footprint. And he took the bio-fueled boat into coastal ports around New Zealand to promote his record attempt and attract sponsors.

People from all over the country stepped down into the boat’s tiny cabin space. As a publicity stunt, Bethune had liposuction and converted his fat to fuel - but this didn’t help his 2007 world record attempt. His 2008 attempt however, smashed the record in an electrifying 61 days, shaving 11 days from the previous record.

People from around the Coromandel Peninsula are applauding “that guy in camo.” Bethune’s good friends in Whitianga, Dive Zone’s Darrell and Linda Bird admire Pete’s passion for the environment. If he is in the country, Pete is often the guest speaker at their annual Dive Festival.

“We’re delighted with the decision of the International Court of Justice, not only because it will stop the killing of whales in the Antarctic by the Japanese, but also because, for Pete, it’s a personal victory. One he completely deserves,” said Linda.

Back in 2006, when speaking of the multitude of environmental issues screaming out for advocacy, Bethune described himself as “a lion in a field of zebras.” In terms of making a difference to planet Earth, we could say there is one

less zebra in the field for Pete Bethune.

Stingrays on new Buffalo Beach footpath now complete

The stingrays on the new footpath along Buffalo Beach in Whitianga are now complete. The stingrays were designed by renowned Mercurt Bay artist, Michael Smither in conjunction with Nagti Hei and Thames Coromandel District Council. Mr Smither donated his involvement in the project to the people of Mercury Bay. He was involved in the Underfoot Gallery on the Thames Coastal Walkway and when TCDC asked him to become involved in the Whitianga
project, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The stingrays are the first public works of art in Whitianga.

Kauri 2000 to continue planting trees despite dieback

The confirmation that kauri dieback disease is present on the Coromandel Peninsula is devastating for most, if not all, people. At an emergency meeting held by the Kauri 2000 Trust, chair, Alison Henry said, “We hoped that the Peninsula was free of the disease, but this news confirms our worst fears.”
At the meeting the trustees of the Trust were unanimous in their decision to continue planting kauri and will be organising planting days again this June. Kauri 2000 maintains all their planting sites for three to five years. All their existing sites are healthy with no indication of dieback. “We are confident that continuing to plant is the right thing to do. Indeed, our small seedlings could be seen as the proverbial canary in the coalmine and should the disease be present, we will be warned very early,” said Mrs Henry.
Kauri dieback is caused by a soil-born phytophthora which is a fungus-like pathogen. It enters the tree through its small roots and gradually strangles the tree of nutrients. 
While young and mature trees take some years to show symptoms, small seedlings succumb within a few weeks. 
The Trust is working closely with the Kauri Dieback Management Team, which includes representatives of the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Primary Industries and Waikato Regional Council.  Education about the disease and how to stop it spreading is the best defence against kauri dieback and will be a major focus for both the Trust and the Dieback Team.  Because the disease is spread by soil, it is essential that everyone understands that all boots, spades, bikes and equipment are cleaned of all soil before entering any of the Coromandel forests. 
Kauri 2000 has been planting kauri trees on the Coromandel Peninsula since 1999 and this year the Trust will reach a major milestone of planting their 40,000th seedling. For more information about kauri dieback see

How the community is helping to keep Mercury Bay Junior Rugbys momentum going

Mercury Bay Junior Rugby Club launched their season this year with a breakfast last Saturday, 5 April at the Lyons Park rugby field and clubrooms in Whitianga. Milo sponsored the breakfast, which was held for the second year in a row.
The club is in a growth phase with around 25 more players weighing in this year than three years ago. Rippa rugby alone will have 33 young boys and girls playing. According to club president, Dennis Johansen, every junior rugby club’s challenge is to retain players. He and his committee have worked hard to ensure the club provides an environment for players to keep on playing.
“I believe four things are necessary for a junior rugby club to be a healthy club,” said Dennis. “Foremost all decisions have to be about the children. It’s not the place for any adult interests to take centre stage. Another thing is that it’s really important for the kids to play in good gear. If they all wear club colours, they feel they belong. The club must also be well-organised.
Mums and dads need to know when their children are playing, where they are playing and how they’re going to get there. The last thing is that the kids must have fun. Although everyone likes to win, we’re not totally results driven. We’ll never say to a player you’re not good enough to go on the field. You have to be inclusive to be sustainable.”
This season is the first time all players will play in jerseys with the club’s current colours. All players will also receive a club t-shirt and jacket. Players will have to return their jerseys and jackets at the end of the season. The t-shirts are theirs to keep. The new gear wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support from a variety of Mercury Bay businesses and organisations and the Milo breakfast provided an ideal opportunity to thank the sponsors who made it all happen.
PlaceMakers Whitianga sponsored two sets of rippa rugby jerseys, Coast 2 Coast Scaffolding sponsored a set of  9th grade jerseys and Cooks Beach Building Supplies sponsored a set of 5th grade jerseys. Platinum Homes sponsored jackets for the rippa rugby players and Whitianga Waterways, Hot Water Beach Top Ten Holiday Park, Coastal Refrigeration and Whitianga Hotel sponsored the jackets for the older players.
The Mercury Bay Community Trust has also contributed some funding to the new gear.
The club will this season be able to field teams in all the grades, except the seventh grade. “It’s the first time in quite a few years we can play with so many teams,” said Dennis. “We’re hopeful that this is the last year we won’t field a team in every grade. Right at this moment we have a great bunch of happy kids, they all are going to be able to wear their club jerseys with pride and next season we’re going to see all of them and their parents again.”
Eight clubs will participate this season in the Thames Valley Rugby Union’s youth rugby competition. The first games will be played this Saturday, 12 April.

Famous ukulele trio coming to Whitianga

Creative Mercury Bay will be hosting renowned West Auckland ukulele trio, The Nukes (pictured), in Whitianga this weekend. The trio will present a workshop for Mercury Bay Area School students on Friday, 11 April. Members of the public with basic ukulele knowledge are invited to attend a further workshop on Saturday morning, 12 April. Saturday evening around 40 MBAS students will join forces with The Nukes for a 90 minute concert in the MBAS hall. The Nukes have a huge national following with a succession of performances at festivals such as the Bluff Oyster Festival, Splore, the Hamilton Garden Festival, the Hawkes Bay and NZ Ukulele Festivals and WOMAD. Tickets for the show on Saturday evening are available from Paper Plus Whitianga.

2015 Wet n Wild Weekend in the pipeline

Tairua’s inaugural “Wet ‘n Wild W’end” held 22 -23 March on the Tairua estuary was a smash hit, hugely supported by locals and visitors to the town. Several thousand turned out to support, enjoy or take part in the exciting day of water sports events.

Drivers crossing Tairua’s one-lane bridge had to ease up on their accelerators as motorists took a quizzical look at a flyboarder “walking on water.” On the estuary’s edge, crowds watched as professional and novice jet skiers raced around orange marker buoys that pegged out different circuits.

Feedback from professional jet ski riders was positive. They enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere with an emphasis more on having fun than winning. In the novice races, a young girl gave more experienced riders a run for their money.

The Japanese style Taiko drummers captivated spectators on the Pepe Reserve and a totally wicked water slide kept children occupied from the event’s start to its finish.

Organisers are already taking the opportunity to think ahead about what the event will look like next year, said Tairua Information Manager, Lynette Dey. “The ongoing commitment is to build an annual public festival that showcases the amenity of the beautiful Tairua harbour and that will stimulate economic activity in Tairua outside of the peak summer season. The jet sport enthusiasts and performers are keen to come again for a fun weekend and there is plenty of scope to add other watersports and locations and opportunities for spectator participation.

Some major sponsors are now showing an interest, which is exciting and will allow the event to grow.”

Organiser, Brent Turner insists that the community focus must remain. “So, wetter and wilder next year, but firmly in the hands of the people of Tairua.  All we are focusing on now is making next year’s event bigger and better.”

To keep up to date with developments, keep an eye on the event’s website

A Night of Broadway Divas and Dance broke the $160,000 ceiling for the X ray machine

“For $25, this is the bargain of the century,” said Whitianga’s Gordon Barnaby during the first intermission at last Saturday evening’s A Night of Broadway, Divas and Dance show at the Mercury Bay Club. All proceeds of the show are to go to the Whitianga Lions Project Committee’s campaign for a Mercury Bay X-ray machine. Gordon was one of many Lions who attended the evening with their wives and family members.
Petra (my lovely wife) and I bought tickets to the evening to support the X-ray machine.
I didn’t really know what to expect. The two star attractions, singer Emilie Harwood and dancer Chris Olwage are up-and-coming and I, admittedly, know more about Super XV rugby than music.
It was my intention to report on the show in the same way I normally do with community events - a headline, a photo and a caption saying approximately how many people attended and a comment or two from the organisers.
But hearing Gordon talk about the ticket price being a bargain, my intention was out of the window. I was going to do a proper piece of editorial and, in any event not knowing much about what is and what isn’t allowed in journalism, I was going to do it in the first person. I just had to be personal about the event.
By the first intermission we’ve heard Emilie sing Broadway hits ranging from New York New York to Edelweiss, we’ve heard local Mercury Bay Player, Jenny Jackman sing Can’t Help Loving That Man and we’ve seen Chris dance Stravinsky’s Firebird on points. I was captivated. Emilie’s singing made all these emotions welling up in me. And Chris did things I didn’t think was humanly possible.
I couldn’t wait for the second part to get going.
And what a second part it was. Supported with more songs from Jenny and fellow Mercury Bay Players, Peter Lawrence and Karen Carole, Emilie sang Whitney Houston, Shirley Bassey,
Lady Gagga, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain and Celine Dion and Chris danced Black Swan and Don Quixote (with a little help from Lisa Jurakovich, another very talented dancer), again on points.
Towards the end of the second part, Anchorage Motel owner and Mercury Bay Museum curator, Ron Morgan, asked master of ceremonies and show organiser, New Zealand Encounter’s David Hall, if he may say something.
And he echoed Gordon’s sentiment - $25 for a ticket to the show was a steal. Surely people would be willing to give a bit more to the X-ray machine if a bucket was passed around. And then he led the way by dropping $100 into the bucket. That was followed by David announcing that ticket and programme sales raised $5,870 for the machine. And 15 minutes or so later that was followed with an announcement that Ron’s bucket, with a bit of prompting from some very persistent Mercury Bay Club committee members, raised a further $1,063. That was followed by Whitianga Lions’ Project Committee chairman, Malcolm Brown, asking David to announce that the X-ray machine fund has broken through the $160,000 mark.
That announcement energised pretty much everyone to take to the dance floor. Emilie was joined by her equally talented brother, Chris Harwood, on stage and when Petra and I left 30 minutes or so later to relieve our babysitter, the two were still going all-out and the dance floor was still packed.
Before we left, I saw Malcolm taking some time out. I thought to have a quick chat to him about the evening. What I found was a man overcome by emotion - completely stunned by the generosity of a community who totally and utterly embraced an idea he and his fellow project committee members had.
Walking out the door of the Mercury Bay Club last Saturday night, my lovely wife by my side, I attempted to get my thoughts, my impressions, in some sort of order. This is what I came up with -
If David Hall organises a charity do, don’t miss it. It will run flawlessly and it will be entertainment of the highest calibre.
Emilie Harwood is absolutely brilliant.
Chris Olwage is absolutely brilliant.
The Mercury Bay Players are absolutely brilliant.
The Lions lead by example.
Not only do they ask the community to support the X-ray machine, they also, more often than many other people,
put their own hands in their own pockets to make the X-ray machine happen.
Malcolm Brown and his team deserve the freedom of the town.
The Mercury Bay community is extraordinary. Not four months into it (remember the Lions’ Project Committee announced in The Informer of 17 December 2013 they were launching an X-ray machine fundraising campaign) and more than $160,000 is raised. Absolutely unbelievable!   
And yes - $25 for a ticket to the show was a bargain. Even if you dropped four times that in Ron Morgan’s bucket, it still would have been a steal.

Whitianga Social Services really needs help

Earlier this year a lack of funding saw Whitianga Social Services scaling their days of operation down from five to four per week. All staff members are receiving one day a week less income, but continue to provide volunteer hours back to the community.  Now Social Services is facing a further blow and really have to look to the community for some help.
“We fund our Youth Space in Cook Drive with lottery grants from the Department of Internal Affairs,” said Social Services manager, Jenny Wolf. “The grants are pretty much routine and we expected our next round of funds to have been available by June this year. But late last week we became aware that the funding round dates for 2014 have changed. The new dates mean we’ll only now received funds from the DIA in November. It will cost $28,500 to keep our Youth Space doors open until then. It’s money we clearly don’t have.”
The Social Services Youth Space is a success story. The space opened late last year in answer to a desire from many Mercury Bay young people for a place to hang out after school. The space is staffed by qualified social and youth workers and community volunteers. It’s a place where young people can go to do their homework, play pool and other games, learn new skills and catch up with friends. Kayaking was on the agenda during summer for Wednesday afternoons and funding was obtained to host cooking classes earlier this year. Friday night activities became a regular feature. Recently 16 girls attended a girls night where the opportunity to watch a movie was turned down in favour of pampering and just talking.
The space has strict ground rules. No drugs or alcohol, always adult supervision and only young people of similar age attending.
The Accident Compensation Corporation agreed to fund the space to host some larger events. So, May will see a family Amazing Race to coincide with the formal opening of the Mercury Bay Multi-Sport Park and a “spook night” will be held during Halloween. The space will partner with Creative Mercury Bay to host the Mercury Bay Blast in December and a big youth concert is planned at the Whitianga Bike Park for March next year.
ACC has also agreed to fund a short film making competition with alcohol awareness and safety as a theme. A Samsung tablet is up for grabs and the best still image from all the entries will go up on a billboard to be erected next to the Social Services offices further down Cook Drive.
The biggest impact the space has is on the lives of young people. The staff members are always happy to listen to and provide advice on the many complex issues our young people face, often not of their own doing.
There’s the story of a boy turning up at the space, intending to get drunk somewhere else in town later that day. After a while, he felt comfortable to confide in one of the staff members. He didn’t get drunk and is now a regular at the space. There’s also the story of a girl who felt unsafe around a particular adult. She chose to go to the Youth Space one Friday evening. She’s a regular now too. The space is a place where she feels safe and where there are adult and skilled people she can talk to. And there’s a girl with a disability causing social awkwardness.
Jenny and her team gradually introduced her to the Youth Space and she’s now comfortably interacting with others wherever she goes.
All this, alas, may come to an end. Social Services needs $5,700 a month to keep the Youth Space going until November. Jenny and her team are knocking on all the doors they can think of, but, in case they don’t get any answer, wonder if there are any members or groups of the Mercury Bay community willing to champion their cause.
They will consider anything, donations (obviously), fundraising help and ideas, introductions to people who may help or introductions to people who know people who may help. 
If you want to live in a community where young people have somewhere to go to for some quality time after school, where they have someone who can help them to deal with their issues and where good things are happening and are bound to continue to happen, give Jenny a call - (07) 866 4476.
A healthy society is a lasting legacy. You may just have now the opportunity to have a part in that - right here in Mercury Bay.


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Is the government's decision not to base a rescue helicopter in Whitianga over summer (or at all) a broken promise?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.