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Whitianga Wharf this summer Good – back the same as before – but different

It’s something all our visitors want to see. It is there in most photos of Whitianga. It looks cute and friendly and inviting. This is the Whitianga wharf. But for the years of COVID it was quiet. Then last year’s storms battered the town all through summer (so called) and it was nowhere near a normal summer. This year the weather has been perfect, making a big difference to life and activity on the Whitianga wharf.
 |  Stan Stewart  | 

Have you been to this pier?

We asked Richard Sheldon-Woodcock (Chocky) who, this summer, was the Wharf Warden for Thames Coromandel District Council. A Whitianga resident for many years, Richard can clearly remember the wharf, its people, the events and the traffic in the summers prior to COVID.

“It’s been back to pre-COVID normal, busy and happy,” he said. But then, he corrected himself. “No it’s not quite,” says Richard. “The flow of people, the numbers have been about the same, but their spending behavior is different.” He went on to explain it like this. “This year it appears that the locals (the Kiwis- those who are local residents and those who come on holiday) are spending less than in previous years. They seem to be watching their dollars. On the other hand, the Europeans – mostly from Germany and Holland, have been spending freely.”

International visitors are attracted to the wharf and of course, the ferry which runs every few minutes to and from Ferry Landing, Cooks Beach. However, this year, apart from the Germans and Dutch, the international variety has been less than in previous years. But the ferry has been flat out. The various boat tour companies have also had very busy days with full capacity of passengers.

Everyone in Whitianga was excited by the visit of a cruise liner in January. This visit was only the second liner to call into Mercury Bay. This ship was small, with 280 passengers, but it was most welcome. The passengers were transported to the wharf in the ship’s tenders. They were mostly Americans who had one interest in common – bike riding.

A fleet of trucks brought their bikes to each port the ship visited. The passengers hurried through the wharf to the pick-up point for their bikes. Richard and most of Whitianga hope that visits from cruise liners will become a regular thing in future summers.

As is a regular attraction and a very normal occurrence, stingrays of various sizes, from small to huge, are often resting or cruising beneath the wharf.

Bronze Whaler sharks have visited the locality on occasions. No orcas or dolphins have been sited near the wharf this summer.

A major function of the wharf is to be an unloading destination for trawlers – large boats that are clearly commercial fishing boats. The trawlers pay an annual fee for access to and use of the facility. Trawlers unloading fish into refrigerated trucks are a daily occurrence at the wharf. Recreational boats cannot use the wharf.

Unfortunately, for health and safety reasons, fresh fish cannot be purchased at the wharf.

However, fishing from the wharf is as popular as ever. This is often a family occasion with a parent or parents coaching small anglers. Grand-parents are often the coaches and teachers of the small fry fisher-people. This year has been notable for the increased number of Asian anglers. Although enjoyable, actually catching a fish has been a sparse event. This didn’t stop a crowded wharf the day of the children’s fishing competition -hardly room to get a hook and line in the water.

Fun and shrieks have been unabated as older children and teens jump into the water in the designated area under the watchful eye of ‘Chocky’ and the other Wharf Ambassadors. Adjacent to the jumping-off spot is a ladder which enables the jumpers to get their thrills again and again.

In summary, Richard says this has been an amazing summer.

“The summer we have all been hoping for”.

As remarked by many other residents, locals and business owners, the Kiwi visitors have been more frugal than their spend prior to COVID. But there has been a positive bright spirit and the sunny days and blue skies have really helped that.

It has also been generally agreed that the uncertainty of road access (Will the bridge be built in time?) has meant that some local regulars chose to holiday in other locations. The speedy re-opening of the Thames-Kopu highway (25A) was a welcome surprise for all of us.

Richard feels certain there are even better things ahead for the Whitianga wharf of Mercury Bay and the Coromandel Peninsula.