A $2.7m upgrade has been mooted to transform Omanawa Falls from a known hazard to a tourism drawcard.
The 5.6 hectare Omanawa Falls Power Station Reserve in the Kaimai Range is owned by the Tauranga City Council and includes the picturesque falls, track and a historic power station, all set in lush native bush.
Yesterday afternoon the council's Economic Development and Investment Committee unanimously agreed to put the funding into the draft Long Term Plan for 2018-28. Once the final draft has been confirmed it will go out for community consultation early next year.
The centrepiece of the proposed upgrade was a 28-flight staircase cantilevered off the cliff face taking visitors down to the base of the falls, according to a council report.
It would have seven large viewing platforms along the way and 14 smaller side platforms, some of which would provide access to the river.
Parks and recreation manager Mark Smith said the addition of a carpark would ease parking woes on Omanawa Rd and public loos would stop people using the falls environment as their toilet.
Councillor Gail MacIntosh queried the cost, saying she remembered a $6 million plan for the park being rejected by the council a few years ago.
Mr Smith said the $2.7m did not include a geotechnical assessment to see whether the cliff could support the stairs, and the cost could rise if the cliff face was not stable.
The new amenities would open in September 2019, according to a project timeline.
The existing hand-dug track has been labelled dangerous and has been closed to the public for years, but warning signs and security fences have not stopped people going in and getting injured.
The report noted there had been at least six serious accidents at the falls since 2013, the most recent in February this year.
There have also been numerous incidents of people getting lost and needing to be rescued.
On a single day last summer, security staff at the falls counted 155 visitors with 62 cars.
Exposure on programmes including The Bachelor and word spreading via social media meant the area's popularity was increasing.
The council has made a $1m application to the central government's Tourism Infrastructure Fund to help offset the cost of the upgrade.
Mayor Greg Brownless asked staff to look for other ways to spread the cost, such as a charge for non-local visitors or partnerships with commercial operators who had expressed interest in the area.
Councillors wanted the Western Bay of Plenty District Council to contribute money too.
Upgrading Omanawa Falls
- Replace safety fencing
- New staircase down cliff to bottom of falls
- New boardwalk at base of falls
- Replace power station viewing platform
- Purchase neighbouring land for carpark
- Two new public toilets
- Signage, park furniture and access gate.
- Nov 2018: Start land purchase process for carpark
- Aug 2018: Begin design, consenting and tendering
- Feb 2019: Start construction
- Sept 2019: Finish construction and open track.