Aucklanders to be spread far and wide

By David Eames

From November 1, Auckland will reach from Mercer, through the central city and to Ross Rd just north of Te Hana, a distance of 140km along State Highway 1. Photo / Richard Robinson
From November 1, Auckland will reach from Mercer, through the central city and to Ross Rd just north of Te Hana, a distance of 140km along State Highway 1. Photo / Richard Robinson

From November 1, the quickest route through Auckland will be 140km long.

On that day anyone living between the McDonald's restaurant at Mercer and Ross Rd in what is still the northern Rodney district will, for better or worse, be considered an Aucklander.

One people, under John - or Len. That has yet to be decided.

As great New Zealand road trips go, it is exactly the same distance as Westport to Hokitika, just 5km shorter than the journey from Palmerston North to Wellington, and a mere 10km shorter than a trip from Hamilton to Taupo.

But while we might all be "Jafas", attitudes to the upcoming Auckland Council are as varied as the communities and the landscapes they inhabit.

"I don't really have much to do with Auckland, eh," says Mike, out on the street on a drizzly Mercer morning. He won't give his surname, but is happy to admit he would rather go to Hamilton than visit the big smoke to do his shopping.

It might have a four-lane expressway bisecting it, but Mercer is a pretty rural spot, and doesn't hear a lot from its noisy neighbour up the road. He doubts that'll change much after November 1.

Queen St, the cafes of Ponsonby and the picturesque bays of the North Shore are a long way from Christine Walker's home on State Highway 1, a few kilometres north of Te Hana and about 500m below the Auckland / Northland border.

If you're coming from Whangarei, hers will be the first Auckland home you pass. If you're travelling from the south, it'll be the last.

And, like Mike, she's feeling the tyranny of distance.

"It does feel that it will be so far south. We don't really feel part of Auckland at all."

She doesn't receive much in the way of services from the current Rodney District Council, and expects even less from the Auckland Council.

As far as her rates are concerned, "they couldn't get any higher", and says when you live on a state highway the council is not rushing to do your footpath.

Down the road at Te Hana, sculptor and carver Kerry Strongman is equally nonplussed about the new council set-up.

"Auckland is okay, but I consider myself a Northlander first and foremost."

Strongman, who from his workshop fashions "jewellery for giants", which is exported around the world, hasn't voted in this year's elections.

"I don't want to encourage them," he reckons.

Though he likes Auckland City, he says it's a long way from home, and acts mainly as "our supply base and our entertainment".

He does worry that an Auckland-based council will make it more expensive to run his Te Hana studio, and that its influence will act "like a big club for bashing the rest of the country with".

But he's got an answer if it all gets too much.

"I'll just move to the Kaipara."

Half way across the region - some 80km away in Devonport - Larry Vellas, is holding the fort at the Newton Andrew Gallery on Victoria Rd.

"I think its a natural progression for a large, metropolitan city," he says.

Vellas - who has lived on the Shore for 12 years, and Auckland for 78 - remembers the days of "pocket boroughs" and the development of the current four-city set-up.

Now, he says, it's time for that system to change, and as long as the media doesn't "revel in negativism", and the new council doesn't find itself usurped by "idealogues", the Auckland Council will succeed.

"The greatest difficulty for any politician is to not have his judgment threatened by trying to appeal to popular sentiment."

Even further across town - in busy Mt Albert township - fishing store owner Jim Zhan says the Auckland Council will be a unifying factor for the region, which he says is "too separated" at the moment.

He says he will cast his vote by lunchtime today, and is hoping Len Brown will win the mayoralty.

He reckons he likes the stance Brown has taken on law and order, and believes he will also help with the homeless who have been sleeping rough in the bus shelter across the road.

He, too, believes the Auckland Council will succeed, but it will have to try to keep rates down, as businesses are hurting.

"It will be better for the future."

The future will be here four Mondays from now.

- NZ Herald

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