Saturday, 04 April 2020


The touching story of Luana Tupou

First Luana Tupou, the newly appointed site manager at Z Whitianga, tells you her family call her "Spare Parts." Initially you may think that’s a touch rude, but then she tells you her twin sister, Arna, calls her "Lifesaver." And then it all starts to make sense.

Early in 2011 Arna was diagnosed with aggressive forms of lymphoma and leukaemia. Her doctor told her chemotherapy had to start immediately or she would only have a few weeks more to live. "We were 38-years-old then," said Luana. "I remember thinking to myself, ‘We’re too young for something like this to happen to one of us.
And it should be me. Arna has kids, I don’t.’ Arna and her family lived in Tauranga at that time and I was in Hamilton.

"Our family really stood by Arna during her illness. Five of us, mum, our older sister, Arna’s husband, her father in law and me, shaved all our hair and took turns to stay with her in hospital. I even got a job as orderly at the hospital so I could be as close to Arna as possible."

After a few cycles of chemo, Arna was given more bad news - the treatment wasn’t working. She was told her only option was a bone marrow transplant (also known as a stem cell transplant) from a perfect match. "As a twin sister, I was thought to be the obvious choice," continued Luana. "But the doctors wanted to be absolutely sure. The risk of Arna’s body rejecting the transplant had to be eliminated as much as possible. We were three siblings who were tested. I cleaned up on my act a bit, no smoking and drinking, and when the news came that I was a perfect match, I was ecstatic. It was one of the best days of my life.

"The transplant process was very tough on Arna. The doctors had to kill all her diseased blood cells. That could only be done with more heavy doses of chemo and full body radiation. The day of the transplant I had to lie down for 13 hours with all these tubes coming in and out of my body filtering out my healthy red blood cells. Arna later told me when they started to feed my healthy cells into her body, it felt like she was given magic juice.

"The treatment certainly worked as Arna was sent home ten days later. And a bit more than a year after that the doctors gave her the all clear."

Luana moved to Whitianga the beginning of last year and she loves it here. She tries to get to Arna and her family in Tauranga as much as possible. "Arna’s illness was very tough on us all," she said. "But in the end it all worked out well. For me every day is now a good day, knowing my twin sister is OK and that she can be with her husband and kids."

The Targa Rally coming to Mercury Bay this weekend

Two-time Targa Rotorua event winner Leigh Hopper and co-driver Simon Kirkpatrick head a diverse 100-strong line-up of competitors and cars for the new three-day Targa North Island tarmac motor rally this weekend. The Auckland-Whitianga-Rotorua event starts at in the Bombay Hills at 8.35am on Friday and ends in Rotorua on Sunday 18 May at 4.10pm. In-between, the 74 competition and 26 associated Targa Tour cars will cover 457kms of closed special stages and 840 kms of touring kilometres.

Having enjoyed the extra stage time and challenge of last year's two-and-a-half-day Targa Rotorua event, Hopper said he thinks a three-day event is the perfect build-up for the six-day “main event” in the South Island later this year. "With three days you've got the intensity of the shorter sprint events, but the strategy in terms of having to pace yourself and keep on top of the car is important when you are racing over five or six days."

Without the detailed corner-to-corner pace notes of a typical gravel event, a Targa rally places a far greater onus on the driver to be able to “read” the road, a skill Hopper prides himself in and believes is one of the cornerstones of the on-going appeal of local Targa events.

The weekend’s rally will also see the motorsport event debut of TV sports show The Crowd Goes Wild reporter/presenters Hayley Holt and Chris Key who will join the concurrent, but non-competitive, Targa Tour in their show's promo vehicle, an Isuzu D-Max double-cab ute. "This is one of the most exciting things I have done in a long time," said confirmed petrolhead Holt. "I've always wanted to do a Targa and though I'd love to do it in a competition car, the Tour is probably the best place for Chris and I to start."

Set to again provide a different perspective on the event's tight and twisty hill stages is top New Zealand drifter Cam Vernon who impressed competitors and spectators alike with his extreme sideways skills on the last Targa Bambina event. This time Vernon will drift his newly acquired 6.7 litre V8-engined Nissan S15 through four stages, the Coromandel one from just outside Coromandel township to Te Rerenga on Friday, the Pumpkin Hill and Whiritoa stages south of Whitianga on Saturday morning and the Hamurana stage which skirts the northern side of Lake Rotorua on Sunday.

The rally has been organised with the support of sponsors Ecolight, Federal motorsport tyres, Global Security, Gull, Instra Corporation, Kids In Cars, Metalman, NZ Classic Car magazine, Race Brakes, TeamTalk, TrackIt, VTNZ and Woolrest Biomag.

The rally will arrive in Whitianga on Friday afternoon where the vehicles will be serviced at the Mercury Bay Multi-Sport Park in Moewai Park. The Lee Street car park will be the overnight Parc Ferme where the rally vehicles will arrive from 5:00pm. The Targa Tour vehicles will arrive in Lee Street from 4:30pm for a charity car wash until 6:00pm.

International bands returning to Whitianga

Anniversary weekend next year will see three well-known international bands perform at a concert at the Whitianga Waterways arena in Whitianga. The concert is the result of negotiations between Peter Abrahamson, the manager of Whitianga Waterways, and Amanda Calvert of Greenstone Entertainment, an internationally recognized concert promoter known for hosting concerts in breath-taking locations around New Zealand.

Greenstone Entertainment has brought to New Zealand in recent years some of the world’s most famous artists, including Pat Benatar, Creedence Clearwater Revival, 10cc, America, Bachman Turner, Dr Hook, Starship and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"The concert in Whitianga will be held on Saturday, 25 January," said Peter. "It’s one of three concerts the international bands will perform at. The other two will be at Gibbston Valley Winery outside Queenstown and at the Taupo Amphitheatre.

"We cannot name the bands yet, but they are top class, it will be a great line-up.

"I personally think that it’s fantastic that we could secure an international concert for Whitianga again. The last one in 2012, when we had Little River Band and the Doobie Brothers here, attracted more than 12,000 people to town. We hope this time around that we’ll get more than 15,000.

"Events, whether it’s the Scallop Festival or fishing tournaments or something else, are what make Whitianga and our whole area tick. We really are the perfect location for international concerts, a great setting and close to Auckland and Hamilton. We are looking at a long term relationship with Greenestone Entertainment and are sure more concerts will follow."

Peter expects that the names of the bands that will perform at the concert will be announced in the coming weeks.

Screening of locally made short films last week

About a month ago, well-known documentary maker James Muir from Coromandel Town presented two short film making workshops in Whitianga. The workshops were attended by students and adults from Mercury Bay and Auckland.

At the first workshop James taught the participants how to shoot video footage and at the second workshop he showed them how to edit the footage. He then sent them away to create their own three minute films. Last Thursday evening 8 May, the films the participants made were screened at the Monkey House Theatre in Whitianga.

The event was well-attended and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the films, covering topics such as the Whitianga skate park, the sea and the beach, the Swim the Beaches fundraiser for the Mercury Bay X-ray machine, tramp skating, a day at Otama Beach, the impact of pesticides on bees and putting a restored fishing vessel to sea. Some of James’s films were also screened.

James was brought to Whitianga by Paula Davies from Creative Mercury Bay.

See Atawhai Charteris's short film on tramp skating below.


A good weekend for Mercury Bay Senior and Peninsula First XV rugby

The Mercury Bay Senior A rugby team had a very good 34 - 19 win against Ngatea on Saturday 10 May. The team is playing Waihi in Whitianga next Saturday, 17 May. Kick-off is at 2:00pm.

The Peninsula First XV rugby team won Hauraki Plains College 22-0 in the first game of the Thames-Valley First XV season on Saturday 10 May in Ngatea. The team is made up of players from Mercury Bay, Coromandel Town and Manaia. According to assistant coach, Greg Relph it’s the first time an Upper-Coromandel team kept HPC scoreless on their own turf.

A good weekend for Mercury Bay Senior and Peninsula First XV rugby

The Mercury Bay Senior A rugby team had a very good 34 - 19 win against Ngatea on Saturday 10 May. The team is playing Waihi in Whitianga next Saturday, 17 May. Kick-off is at 2:00pm.

The Peninsula First XV rugby team won Hauraki Plains College 22-0 in the first game of the Thames-Valley First XV season on Saturday 10 May in Ngatea. The team is made up of players from Mercury Bay, Coromandel Town and Manaia. According to assistant coach, Greg Relph it’s the first time an Upper-Coromandel team kept HPC scoreless on their own turf.

MBAS principal back from overseas marketing trip

Mercury Bay Area School principal, John Wright has recently returned from a trip to Europe, marketing the school to the international student community. Mr Wright attended education fairs and met with agencies representing the school in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Austria and Italy. On his way back, he attended a two-day conference in Singapore with the title, "21st Century School Reformation - Rethink, Reinvent, Revolutionise."

Mr Wright said it was easy to represent MBAS. "Our course diversity, our emphasis on really positive learning relationships, our resourcing, the safe home stays we offer, our small community, our quality facilities in every learning area and the fact that we are working with five-year-olds through to 19 year olds made me realise once again just how unique we are as a school and an area school in particular."

Wherever Mr Wright went, there was a lot of interest in MBAS’s marine academy and outdoor education focus and many questions were asked about the school’s aeroplane build last year and the restoration of the Coot amphibian plane students of the school are involved in at the moment.

Mr Wright said the conference in Singapore reinforced his view that MBAS is on the right track with his and his staff’s forward-looking approach to education.

Bittersweet Inter-Pacific Spearfishing Championships for Mercury Bay locals

The New Zealand men and women’s spearfishing teams are back from the Tahitian island of Raiatea where they participated in the Inter-Pacific Spearfishing Championships during April. Manager of the men’s team, Herb Herbert and team members Callum Relph and Rowan Virbickas live in Mercury Bay. Another team member, Todd Herbert grew up in Mercury Bay, but is now serving an electrician apprenticeship in Queenstown.
The team suffered a setback their very first day in Tahiti with Rowan injuring his leg to such an extent that he wasn’t able to participate in the competition. Kolt Johnston from Auckland was flown in and was a worthy substitute, helping the team to come third overall, behind Tahiti and New Caledonia. The women’s team came second, behind Tahiti.
In the men’s competition each team consisted of two pairs diving together. Callum dived with Todd. Kolt dived with the other team member, Jackson Shields from Auckland.
The team’s schedule was very full while in Tahiti. That is not including Rowan who had to spend most of the time in his room with his leg in the air. “We used the first week and a half to scout the four zones around Raiatea set aside for the competition,” said Callum. “We were going to dive in only two zones, but didn’t know which two. We dived for nine out of our first twelve days for more than eight hours every day. At the end of each day of diving, we would shoot a few fish for dinner. The chef of the resort we stayed in was unbelievable - every night we would give him the fish we shot and night after night he cooked it in this amazing variety of ways.”
The competition itself was a big event on Raiatea, not a traditional tourist destination. The opening ceremony was attended by Tahiti’s Minister of Sport and the local Mayor. It was broadcasted on local television. “All the local people were really excited to have an international event on their island,” said Callum. “I was amazed at how popular New Zealand is among the locals. They support the All Blacks and just wanted to know what they had to do to get hold of one of the New Zealand hats and t-shirts we took with us.
“The competition itself was held over two days, with six hours of diving every day. Todd and I had a very good first day, after which our men’s team was second. Kolt and Jackson had a good second day, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the New Caledonians from taking second spot. We beat the Aussies, though.”
Asking Callum what the difference is between spearfishing in New Zealand waters and the tropics, he said, “Depth first and foremost. We free-dived every day to about 35m. In New Zealand, we normally would go to 15m. The water is also much warmer, the visibility is much better, in fact the water is crystal clear, and there’s a much bigger variety of fish.”
Asking Rowan if he’s injury would put him off competing again, he said, “Look, I was like someone who was given a really, really bad Christmas gift. But all it did was to motivate me to get back out there and try to represent New Zealand again. 
We’ve heard next year’s championships may be in New Caledonia. I suspect it’s going to be tougher to make the team with more divers trying out, but I’m going to give it everything I have.”
To which Callum added, “Count me in too.”


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