A year ago the only times the word "Wairoa" and "rocket" appeared in the same paragraph seemed to be when such horses as "Little Rocket" were racing at Te Kupenga, or when someone explained they weren't a "rocket scientist".

Mayor Craig Little says he came to use the latter frequently when the sceptics would ask when the first launch would take place at Onenui. "I'm not a rocket scientist," he would say. "It (saying 'rocket scientist') was like the local joke around here," he recalled this week.

Mr Little was, however, never one to dismiss the notion that Mahia Peninsular could soon launch New Zealand into the space age in a commercial rocket venture with what he believes has enormous possibilities that Rocket Lab may bring to Wairoa, Hawke's Bay and the East Coast.

"I first heard of it about a year ago," Mr Little said. "I saw bits and pieces coming together, but we thought we'd lost them to Canterbury.


"Sceptics? Hell yeah," he said. "But what I tell them is we've got to be better off with it than without it."

It's the topic of the moment, and while the regional council recently turned down an annual plan request for initiative funding support - for such things as a Space Coast cycleway, a Whakamahia boardwalk and a space "experiential/education" centre - Mr Little has liftoff, missing few opportunities to mention it when at another event on Thursday night as Hawke's Bay civic and business leaders relaunched the regional promotion Great Things Grow here.

And last night, he'd be meeting Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon, reinforcing the point that the region must be united in its efforts to make the most of the potential, which ranges from population and job growth, to tourism, and better transport infrastructure.

"If the only thing we got out of it was an improved State Highway 2 I'd be reasonably happy," he said. "But I think it will mean much more."

He said Rocket Lab envisages about 100 people being employed in the area. With a global market for people who just want to visit as many rocket launches as possible, it's calculated the area is about 100 beds short in the accommodation sector, and those who do come will want to do other things, like Lake Waikaremoana or the Morere pools - especially if the weather has delayed their chosen liftoff.

"Campervans, viewing sites," he says.

Maybe even scenic train trips out to Mahia. Maybe "Mahia to the Moon space travel".
Now there's a thing, but with Government having the venture "on the radar", he's confident, but warns: "I think everyone has to be patient."