Tinopai has come out in favour of developing their 30-year-old wharf as part of the Kaipara Harbour Wharves project.

"We would like to see progress for Tinopai. We want to see development - but without over-urbanisation. We want to keep our village feel," Gay Neels, longtime resident of the tiny Kaipara Harbour seaside Tinopai community.

Tinopai School principal Sonya Kaihe said any local wharf development needed to be holistic.

A Kaipara Harbour wharves meeting was held at Tinopai earlier this month to build a picture of what the community wanted for its wharf – the biggest marine structure in the northern Kaipara Harbour.

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The isolated community is at the end of the 20km Hukatere Peninsula that juts into the northeastern side of Kaipara Harbour. It's an hour to Dargaville and services have been in steady, long-term decline after the settlement boomed in the early 20th century.

Discussing Tinopai wharf development at the meeting, from left, Mark Lobb, Paul Lobb and John Moerenhout (all local residents) and Andy Foskett (bach owner and local residents association member). Photo / Susan Botting
Discussing Tinopai wharf development at the meeting, from left, Mark Lobb, Paul Lobb and John Moerenhout (all local residents) and Andy Foskett (bach owner and local residents association member). Photo / Susan Botting

Geoff Wilson, Tinopai Residents and Ratepayers Improvement Society chairman, said the wharf development was an opportunity for the local community to improve its facilities and services.

Community members said they were in favour of their wharf's development - but any developments needed to come with consideration of key aspects first.

These included climate change implications and making sure adequate infrastructure such as toilets, water supply and accommodation was available to support any development.

About 35 local residents and bach owners attended the meeting in the local community hall.

Among them was Barrie Paterson, the now-retired architect who designed the "new" Tinopai wharf, opened in 1990.

"It's good to see the Tinopai wharf development proposal as part of the big picture," Barrie Paterson said.

Key Tinopai community members in front of Tinopai wharf, from left, Kaipara District mayor Jason Smith, Bobby Smith, Barrie Paterson, Erana Fenton, Mark Vincent and Geoff Wilson. Photo / Susan Botting
Key Tinopai community members in front of Tinopai wharf, from left, Kaipara District mayor Jason Smith, Bobby Smith, Barrie Paterson, Erana Fenton, Mark Vincent and Geoff Wilson. Photo / Susan Botting

"But whatever is built has to be something that works."

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Tinopai's wharf is the biggest coastal structure in Kaipara Harbour, its inclusion in the Kaipara Harbour Wharves project potentially linking the enclave by electric ferry with Helensville and therefore Auckland, just 40km south by sea.

The wharf's also about 2km across the harbour from Puketotara Peninsula, which joins SH1 at Kaiwaka just 25km further to the east. Kaiwaka in turn links across about 15km to Mangawhai on the east coast.

The Tinopai community engagement meeting followed others in Dargaville late last year, at Waikaretu Marae at Pouto last month and one in Paparoa earlier this month.

The Paparoa meeting was attended by about 50 people, with community members from Whakapirau, Pahi, Paparoa and Ruawai putting forward their thoughts about development of their local wharves, maritime facilities and surrounding communities.

One point made at the Paparoa meeting was the need to make sure funds were set aside for ongoing wharf maintenance.

Lack of funding for this purpose has caused ongoing issues with long-term viability for a number of Kaipara wharves.

Ruatuna in Matakohe was among contributors to the Tinopai wharf's construction. Photo / Susan Botting
Ruatuna in Matakohe was among contributors to the Tinopai wharf's construction. Photo / Susan Botting

Community feedback will be put together and taken back to the groups. This will become part of the business plan being put together towards confirming allocated PGF funding for the project. Consultation will be carried out from March 20 to April 3. A final business strategy would be completed by the end of April.

Kaihe said anything that brought more growth for Tinopai was good. More jobs locally were needed to attract more families with children to the area to boost the school roll.

She said harbour water quality and ecosystem health were key considerations that needed addressing. Local kaimoana had significantly declined.

"Any development must be holistic. If you are going to bring people into Tinopai, what are we going to do with them? We need to fix things before they come," Kaihe said.

Kaihe said the local Nga Tai Whakarongorua SUBS correct marae was a valuable Maori tourism opportunity that could work as part of the wharf development and help encourage whānau back to the settlement.

Community members discussed a range of aspects around their wharf and community. These included dealing with the community's isolation through ordering groceries online and having them delivered by water taxi. Other options included KDC buying Tinopai's now closed shop and petrol station and leasing the facility to cafes that might be established due to Tinopai wharf development.

Wharf architect Paterson said Kaipara Harbour offered opportunities, many of which could already be seen in action in the Marlborough Sounds.

Local bach owner Andy Foskitt said supporting roads, water and digital infrastructure needed to be in place if people were to come to Tinopai. Locally-based water storage was required.

Community members clearly represented to those collecting feedback that they valued the friendly, laid-back, small-town feel of their community and did not want this to be lost in any development.

Meeting attendees said they did not want to see any Tinopai wharf development leave a legacy on ongoing cost to local ratepayers in what was a tiny population base locally. Tinopai has 180 permanent residents, mostly retirees.

"We don't want to see our rates suddenly explode to three or four times what they are now like happened in Mangawhai," Foskitt said.

"It's all very good improving the wharf and roads but what do we do with their rubbish and sewage when the people get here?" Tinopai campground manager Brian Frost said.

Frost told the meeting Tinopai's tiny population swells to 2500 people over summer.

Ruawai's Lockwood Smith, former MP, was among financial contributors to the Tinopai wharf, this plaque denoting his purchase of this plank for the mid-eighties construction. Smith opened the wharf in 1990. Photo / Susan Botting
Ruawai's Lockwood Smith, former MP, was among financial contributors to the Tinopai wharf, this plaque denoting his purchase of this plank for the mid-eighties construction. Smith opened the wharf in 1990. Photo / Susan Botting

Part of history

A wharf has long been one of Tinopai's key features.

The first Tinopai wharf was built in 1917 to export apples from a huge local orchard development.

The Komiti Fruitlands Development Association bought 1300 hectares of land in 1915 to grow fruit, particularly apples. The association built the wharf two years later and renamed the area Tinopai Fruitlands in 1918.

Apples, pears and other fruit were exported to Germany, Canada and around the world.

Settlers were encouraged to move to Tinopai which was promoted as the Nelson of the North.

The 1917 wharf became derelict. A second wharf was built. This was pulled down in the late 1970s. Building began on the third and current wharf in the mid-1980s. This wharf was opened in 1990.

Barrie Paterson, architect for the 1990 wharf had been built with huge community contribution meaning what was a $250,000 build had been done for $65,000.

Geoff Wilson, Tinopai Residents and Ratepayers Improvement Society chairman, said a completely new wharf – which would be the fourth Tinopai wharf - would be needed to connect into Kaipara Harbour Wharves.

The current wharf had been designed purely for recreation and fishing. It was built for a 50-year lifespan. It had not been designed for boating, nor was it used for this purpose.

A completely new wharf needed to be designed to be strong enough for electric ferries to tie alongside. The wharf would need to have floating pontoon facilities for all-tide access and a passenger access gangway. Its narrow access walkway linking the wharf platform to the shore would need to be widened.

The current wharf's construction was a community affair. Timber from a Matakohe farm was used to build the wharf. Community members locally and from further afield bought a pile or a boardwalk plank to create the wharf. Small plaques on the wharf showing who paid towards these are affixed along the length of the wharf. The 362 planks creating the boardwalk out to the wharf head platform between them have 298 plaques – 269 of which acknowledge plank purchasers and 29 acknowledge pile purchasers.

Ruatuna in Matakohe was among contributors to the Tinopai wharf's construction. Ruatuna overlooks Kaipara Harbour and is the birthplace of Gordon Coates, New Zealand's Prime Minister from 1925 to 1928.

The wharf was officially opened by MP Lockwood Smith.