In part one of Huntly on the Move, Waikato News reporter Tom Rowland and editor Peter Tiffany found a town tired of being the target of an easy punchline and determined to have the last laugh. Part 2 looks at Huntly's prime position in the new Golden Transport Triangle with hope for a bright future ahead.
When the planned Tron Express pulls into Huntly railway station in March 2020 it will be carrying commuters from Hamilton and picking up more from North Waikato off to work in the City of Sails.
Or at least that is the plan - people pushed out of the property market in Auckland enjoying more affordable homes and a better lifestyle while keeping their city career - and salaries.
At about the same time as the Tron Express fires up the new Waikato Expressway will bypass Huntly cutting drive time between Auckland and Cambridge by 35 minutes.
There won't be a central expressway interchange at Huntly - not yet anyway - but the town is taking all the positives it can from the new rail and road links.
Huntly is the centrepoint in the Hamilton to Auckland transport corridor which links with Tauranga to make the new Golden Transport Triangle of major growth in New Zealand.
Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson says Huntly has a big future due to its position in the Hamilton to Auckland corridor.
"I've always said that Huntly sits smack in the middle of this growth corridor, so a number of industries have identified that they could relocate to Huntly," Mr Sanson said.
He said that people fail to realise there are already big businesses in and around Huntly, including one of the biggest joinery factories which employs 200 staff - Huntly Joinery.
Huntly will see its neglected train station renovated, with a new park and ride for commuters. Here's a tip for Hamiltonians: It will be cheaper to catch the train to Auckland from Huntly.
Sanson said another form of alternative transport in the future could be passenger boats returning to the Waikato River.
"I was having a conversation with politicians a few years ago about congestion on SH1, and I went 'you know what is the longest standing highway?', and they all answered 'SH1', and I went 'well no it's actually the Waikato River which was the commuter highway from the beginning of last century'," Sanson said.
"The river was commonly use for freight and passengers. I can remember old Caesar Roose which is an old family name out of Mercer, bringing the barges down the river.
"There used to be a jetty behind Garden Place in Huntly where people would disembark."
For the Waikato, the river started as the main highway, until the railway was built in the early 1900s. Fast forward over a century, and now SH1 is the main transport route across the majority of New Zealand.
However, with the Waikato section now cutting through Mount Taupiri and bypassing the town, Huntly will again have rail as its main form of transportation for its section of the corridor.
In the future, Labour MP Jamie Strange, who has been part of the team planning the corridor, said he would like to see a return to commuter ferries running from Huntly to Hamilton on the Waikato River.
Meanwhile, the one-way rail fare from Hamilton to Papakura will be $12.20, and from Huntly $7.80. A separate ticket will needed for the connecting AT metro service to Britomart.
•Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail service to begin in March 2020.
•$240,000 will be spent to renovate Huntly's current train station.
•The Express will run twice a day, leaving Hamilton at around 6am, and 8am.
•The Express will then return to Hamilton from Papakura, at around 5pm and 7pm.
•Park and Rides at both Rotokauri station and Huntly station.
In April, the Waikato District Council, which is leading the Huntly station redevelopment, engaged a planning and engineering consultancy to work on the design concept for the Huntly railway station, and they are confident that the design and construction will be completed in time for the passenger rail service start date.
"We've committed $240,000 towards the cost of platform works, including shelter, a park and ride facility, lighting and security cameras, and this will be supported by a 75.5 per cent subsidy from the NZ Transport Agency to allow for a total budget of $960,000 for this work," Waikato District Council's Strategic Projects Manager, Vishal Ramduny said.
"We're working with KiwiRail to ensure that the station design is aligned with any work required on the track, and we're also liaising with Hamilton City Council to achieve any efficiencies that might be available for work required on both the Rotokauri and Huntly stations."
Focus on the positive
Huntly Speedway president Red Wootton says New Zealanders need to start focusing on the positives of the town, over the historic negatives.
At a recent community town meeting, Wootton said that everyone was able to present the positives of the town, including the Huntly Speedway.
"All of them said that this [the Speedway] was one of the star attractions, because there is s*** to do here," Wootton said.
"When we came here, we were in the middle of nowhere, and now we are in the middle of everywhere.
He said the new environmental recreation area which is being developed at the site of the old Huntly East mine will also play a part in bringing the town to life.
"The biggest problem currently is that there is nowhere for families to go, and that is what the council needs to start investing in.
"Most of the crowds at the Speedway are young families, because where can you take them for $50?
"Our population is growing, and we have to give something for the young ones to do to keep them out of trouble.
"Huntly is a great place to be, we just need more support from the council, and Government to play their part. We just need a place where the community can call its base.
"He said that with the recent problems arising over Auckland's Western Springs speedway venue facing closure, Huntly can also benefit.
"When the Western Springs guys travel here, they can race, pack up and head back home probably in the same time it takes them to park at Western Springs.
"I honestly believe there is so much good stuff in Huntly."
Huntly has a big future
Sanson said the introduction of the passenger rail from March 2020 next year would help workers that live in Huntly get from Hamilton to Auckland.
He said they are already planning to introduce high speed rail, to help make it enticing to use the alternative form of transport.
While Wootton was concerned there would be no central interchange in Huntly, the mayor has said there are plans in the near future to have it built.
"The overpass is already there and the bridge on Mcvie Rd, so we actually already have the bridge in place and all we need to do now is build the ramps."
"It's part of the greater amount of work around that transport corridor."
He also said that Huntly is over indulged in community facilities, with a lot of parks and playing fields around the town, and that further investment will be made in the future.
"There are plenty of rugby clubs around the town, a football club and come summer the lakes and river are just filled with people participating in Waka Ama."
"We're about to start building a new basketball court so there is lots going on."
Sanson believes that Huntly's name has suffered recently due to continuous spotlight in the media, with only the negative being focused on.
He said that the community is one of the best he has been a part of, and that the secret is getting out.
• Waikato News is a sister paper to Hamilton News. It appears every fortnight on Fridays as a liftout in the New Zealand Herald in Waikato.