Ahipara takes aim at hoons on the beach

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Wheelie marks on the beach at Ahipara, something the locals hope not to see this coming summer.
Wheelie marks on the beach at Ahipara, something the locals hope not to see this coming summer.

The unsafe use of vehicles on 90 Mile Beach, particularly at Ahipara, has long been a source of aggravation for many residents, especially over the summer holiday season.

Now a group of residents have formed the Ahipara Coastal Patrol Society Inc in a bid to enforce standards that authorities, including the police, have been unable to impose.

Spokesman Mike Sloane said many people did not appreciate the dangers posed by those who disregarded the rules applying to beach traffic.

Some drivers genuinely did not know the rules, while others knew but blatantly disobeyed them. Some ignored the signs erected with the support of the police, Far North District Council and DOC.

"This needs to change," Mr Sloane said.

The plan was to conduct foot and four-wheel-drive patrols from 500 metres north of Waipapakauri Ramp to the southern end of Tanutanu Beach by wardens who would be well versed in the national and local traffic and dog control rules as they applied to the beach.

"We intend to educate and make beach users aware of safe practices for beach activities," Mr Sloane said.

"This model of beach patrol has been successfully in place at Foxton Beach since 2004, dramatically reducing incidents where beach attendees, especially young children, are put at risk because of the behaviour of others.

"We also see ourselves as an information and first aid post and recovery unit, dealing with environmental issues such as rubbish disposal and noise pollution. We have already been approached by Far North Surf Lifesaving to work with and support each other, and we have the full support of the Ahipara Fire Brigade, which has made its facilities available to us, and the Kaitaia police."

Mr Sloane said the dangers caused by uncontrolled traffic and dogs on the beach, particularly at Ahipara, were well documented.

The problem was exacerbated by the closure of vehicle access to beaches such as Muriwai, where communities had zero tolerance for behaviour that caused risk to human life and the environment.

"To some drivers our beach represents a wide, open space, free of rules and easily accessible. One day soon a child, unable to hear a fast-approaching car or dog above the noise of the sea, will be hurt or killed," he added.

Patrol volunteers would inform drivers and dog owners about the safety rules for beach activities, steer drivers and dog owners away from areas being used by families, work to reduce noise pollution (which in terms of off-road bikes could reach levels that were damaging to hearing) and to help protect seals and dotterels from harm by dogs, vehicles and people.

Mr Sloane noted that 91 per cent of respondents to a 2008 survey conducted by the police, DOC and the district council had wanted immediate action such as lower speed limits, the banning of bikes and more police patrols, but the police, council and DOC all lacked the resources needed.

"We need visitors to return," he said.

"They spend money, and increase the employment of staff in our cafes, motels, shops, petrol stations.

"Ahipara should be a place where families can relax and enjoy time in a safe environment.

"Maybe a suitable place could be developed where people would pay for the privilege of driving/riding in wilder terrain, with the fees being used for environmental recovery purposes.

"Our coast can be hazardous for swimmers, surfers, fishermen, and those unfamiliar with driving on the beach," he added.

"We will be extra hands and eyes on the beach, supporting other groups such as Surf Lifesaving, Fisheries, groups involved in sand dune and wildlife protection, and we can offer information to young drivers at Kaitaia College and other schools."

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