Cathedral Cove – plan to reopen track to beach
BY DOC COMMUNICATIONS
From communications: “We welcome the shift to a more pragmatic, and forward-looking approach when it comes to Cathedral Cove and coverage. We also acknowledge the public is very interested in this topic. Thank you for the chance to share our side of the story in response to some of the other contributors. We appreciate the balance and fairness you are extending.
By September, we’ll know what the long-term future is for the Cathedral Cove visitor experience.
That’s the message from DOC as it starts work determining how to address the challenges of the popular and dynamic landscape.
“We’ve purposefully taken a staged approach, and professional advice informed the immediate action to announce the track would not be open for summer,” says DOC’s Regional Director Tinaka Mearns says.
“We then focused on short-term alternatives for summer. Now we are in the final phase of looking to the long term.” DOC is aware the high level of interest in Cathedral Cove, she says.
“The decision to temporarily close the Cathedral Cove Walking Track following the devastating Cyclone Gabrielle was not made lightly. We understand its significance to the local community, the tourism economy and its cultural importance to Ngāti Hei, the local iwi and our treaty partner.
“We’ve also kept in contact with Thames-Coromandel District Council, and our local staff met with commercial operators taking visitors to the cove. We’ve had meetings with the Mercury Bay Business Association and Hahei Business Association who had views to share with us.”
Mearns says the challenge presented by the landscape at Cathedral Cove is not new, and closures of the track have occurred in the past. In 2010-2011, the track and arch were closed for 20 months due to erosion and arch rockfall.
“In light of last year’s weather and damage, DOC needed to fully understand the situation at Cathedral Cove – hence we sought robust geotechnical and landslide risk information from Tonkin + Taylor.”
Tonkin + Taylor’s report was reviewed by DOC’s visitor safety team, prompting the decision and announcement in August to not reopen the track to the beach for this summer – and explore other options for a resilient long-term solution. Both those reports are on a dedicated Cathedral Cove and Hahei page on DOC’s website.
“For us, it’s unacceptable to allow day-trip visitors to access a dangerous site, using a damaged track on unstable land. The risk is too great. We need to spend taxpayer money responsibly. We hope to reopen the track to the beach – that is our long-term goal.” Tinaka says.
“But it’s vital we do that in a safe and resilient way, so we aren’t facing the same issues in future. This involves navigating legislation, heritage considerations, geology, land management, and community aspirations. There’s a lot for us to work through.”
DOC’s focus is on a well-informed process rather than a quick fix: “We believe this approach is essential to address the complex challenges posed by the area’s landscape and climate change.”
This summer DOC implemented alternative walking tracks and cultural experiences in the Hahei area offering views over the Te Whanganui O Hei Marine Reserve.
“Our effort went into making sure visitors could still enjoy the area, learn more about the history and as a result, contribute to the local economy,” Tinaka says.
No resource consents were needed for the Te Pare Pa track work and DOC followed relevant heritage legislation procedures to ensure work was within guidelines and met Ngati Hei aspirations. Initial temporary signage has been replaced with official DOC signage. There was a misunderstanding about some of the work undertaken but DOC now considers those resolved.
The Tiaki Rangers at Grange Rd have been recruited from the local community and Ngati Hei. They have gone through standard DOC induction and recruitment training and prepared for their roles with information both on the cultural heritage experience in place for this summer, plus information on the safety risks at Cathedral Cove – which they’re sharing with visitors. International visitors are responding well to the advice these roles provide.
“Coromandel’s had a succession of difficult summers, so we’re glad to read the community and local businesses are benefitting from some fabulous warm weather and visitors returning to enjoy what the area has to offer.
DOC has visitor monitoring and evaluation survey material for Cathedral Cove, taken between 2018 and 2021. Tinaka says those surveys revealed scenery were the major attraction, and only half the people surveyed walked all the way down to the cove and back up – suggesting many people enjoy the scenic experience and views, as well the cove and archway.
Wider research also shows the second-highest age bracket for visitors to Cathedral Cove is 60-plus. The same research showed viewing the archway from the water was a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for those with lower mobility.
“The archway under Mautohe Pā offers the ‘scenic reward’ photo experience people seek – but not all visitors can reach it via what has been a steep and, for some, quite challenging walk,” Tinaka says.
Accessing Cathedral Cove from the water means visitors are getting a richer experience, from knowledgeable local guides, learning about the greater Mercury Bay Area and the importance of the Te Whanganui-O-Hei Marine Reserve.
Looking ahead, community engagement is vital,” Tinaka says. “We are committed to gathering input from the local community to guide our decisions.
“Residents and business owners can expect more information on engagement and feedback opportunities from February.
“It’s important we do this right, with as much robust and reliable information as possible.”
Caption: Drone image of the damage to the Cathedral Cove walking track.