By Shaun Reilly
Kaikohe

Desolation - devastation, desperation, degradation, hopelessness, wastelands. Does this accurately describe current day Kaikohe?

It may suit the demands of a scribe bent on creating a sensational headline following a cursory inspection, but the reality of a healthy provincial town is actually the antithesis of what was described in a feature article in the New Zealand Herald (The desolation of Kaikohe, December 20).

Residing in Kaikohe for more than half my 84 years makes for a sound base to speak with a degree of authority.

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The acquisition of a town milk dairy farm on the edge of Kaikohe was what then seemed to be a combination of the ideal. Everything one needed was close to hand, children could walk to school, farm supplies, if not in stock, could come by train to the farm gate, and stock could walk to the sale yards, veterinary services next door, timber yard just down the road, transport and fertiliser spreaders right next door. Rustic Utopia!

Actually it was the simple fact that Kaikohe was the complete service town that was the main attraction. One had the choice of all the goods and services that a modern community provides. It was, in one sense, a government office town, as most government agencies had an office here. This adequately served the wider communities as benefited the Hub of the North.

However, nothing ever remains the same, and slowly the exodus of government offices, the Labour Department, Forestry, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Agriculture were closed. A parallel to this existed in Australia, where the closure of the government offices in Maryville saw the total demise of the town.

Kaikohe is made of sterner stuff, and although there were (over the years) more than 150 businesses lost to the town, with less than 40 springing up to replace them, the town defiantly refused to lie down, and today is blessed with a rejuvenation of spirit and belief in itself that belies the dire predictions of the doomsayers.

The Kaikohe District Court, which serves the whole of the middle north, created the illusion that there is a lot of crime in the town, but in cold reality the local population does not figure unduly highly in the numbers appearing before the local magistrates. Even the Northland Corrections facility is quite the dampener that the doomsayers predicted.

Those that are, for whatever reason, obliged to spend time there have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the various educational work and experience opportunities that this institution provides. There are numerous stories of one-time inmates gaining useful and profitable employment on release, almost fulfilling a prophecy made at the opening ceremony that one day the need for a prison would be gone and the complex would be a polytech or university.

The underlying strength of any community lies, as always, in its people, their morale and their unique skills and capabilities. As always, there is more to be gained by co-operation than any confrontation, and to emphasise the point, at a community awards function recently, there were more community-based groups in and around Kaikohe than any other centre in the Far North. With the plethora of these groups covering all forms of activities, it would be a rare phenomenon if, for whatever reason, a need, whether urgent or not, was not immediately addressed and catered for.

The innate sense of caring and nurturing is so ingrained that truly in Kaikohe, no man is an island.

Let us look at a few individual profiles of the talent emanating from the town.

Peter White-Hira invented a unique battery that wouldn't go flat. His patent was bought by Ford, to go nowhere, in much the same fashion as the invention of an engine that functioned on water (hydrogen) was buried.

Ben Dalton, a one-time Tribesman and forester, now 2IC for the Ministry of Primary Industries. Karl Chadwick now manages Hamilton Island, on Australia's Gold Coast. His ambition, a hotel in New York.

Kauiti Selwyn, who will one day rival the reputation of Oscar Natska or even Elvis Presley. Jason Whitehira, once a grocer boy who now controls a Foodstuffs empire. Te Ropu Poa, who has just returned from America from a Global Women's and Youth Conference. Portia Woodman, an outstanding athlete, and Laurie Byers, a former Olympian.

Just a few, but all from Kaikohe, and all shining examples for others to emulate, or even in the fullness of time, surpass. One should not forget either that a former prime minister, David Lange, once lived and practised in Kaikohe.

Now consider the works in progress or planned for the near future. First, the multimillion-dollar civic and community centre to be built in the centre of town, a joint exercise between the council and Te Runanga a iwi o Ngapuhi. This $11 million project will be the catalyst that is the forerunner of other projects to follow.

The new geothermal power station under construction at Ngawha, which, when complete, will insure self-sufficiency in power generation for the region with possible export to the national grid. In all, a $200-300 million investment in the region that began with a drilling exploration programme in the 1980s.

The district council has seen fit to acquire a zone over 600 acres on the edge of the town industrial/ commercial, to facilitate entrepreneurs who would wish to take advantage of the unique combination of relatively cheap land, lower power costs and the availability of geothermal heat. All on one site.

The curative waters of Ngawha are legendary, and it is worth noting that in Belgium there is a spa with waters of similar qualities that attracts 1.5 million visitors a year. A great opportunity for an intrepid investor with an eye to the future.

Kaikohe is listed as motor-home friendly, and there will be many who will recall with nostalgia Kaikohe's demolition derby.

The recently formed Sportsville, to serve the needs of sporting activities in the community, builds on the spirit of co-operation engendered by past examples.

The town is blessed with well laid out sporting fields right in the middle of the town, and it would be fair comment that these team-building activities lie at the heart of the cohesion that goes to bind this community into the unique co-operative entity that it is.

The Coast to Coast Cycle Trail has enabled a number of new businesses to be established, adding to the character of the town. This has also led to increased visitor numbers to the Pioneer Village, 'where the past comes alive today'.

The repository of a very interesting and valuable collection of memorabilia and historical artefacts, the Village was the venue for an impromptu Halloween event this year, when 1000 children and parents turned up for a night of hilarious fun. This was followed up with a hugely popular Christmas party last Saturday, and Father's Day, as is customary, brings out a huge variety of big boys' toys. This icon of the town has become the focal point for a great variety of activities, and not all connected with history.

A $77,000 upgrade of the towns' library is shortly to be commenced, there is an EV charging station, the major banks are represented, Te Wananga o Aotearoa has more than a presence in the town (it is the focal point for higher education), the head office of Te Runanga a Iwi o Ngapuhi is in the town, and with the building of the new civic centre, a new level of partnership between crown and Maori will be evidenced.

Mike Kanji, a Wellington-born and bred businessman, recently saw fit to invest in seven businesses in Kaikohe, and are all doing well, even if two of them are almost similar in style to existing enterprises. Mark Anderson, chairman of the Kaikohe Business Association, is more than confident that any Kaikohe business operated efficiently will be always more than eminently successful, and his faith in the wellbeing and future of the town is echoed by Mike Edmonds, chairman of the Kaikohe/Hokianga Community Board.

Indeed, it is nigh on impossible to find anybody who will subscribe to the opinions expressed in David Fisher's mournful dirge.

While not quite in the category of heady gold rush days, Kaikohe provides most certainly fertile ground for the keen investor or entrepreneur who wishes to try their hand and risk their cash for any enterprise they may care to choose.

To quote a little Shakespeare: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at flood, leads on to greatness ... " That tide is running now.