The Napier City Council may start public consultation this year on plans for the highest-priced dream in Napier history as it moves towards major expansion of the National Aquarium of New Zealand.

It's three years since the proposal known as Operation Shapeshifter was first unveiled, with an "indicative" price-tag of $51.3 million since revealed.

That tag includes a $10.2 million council contribution made up of $3 million from ratepayers, the remaining proportion coming from funds developed from Parklands residential property sales.

The council has now begun sector consultation ahead of opening-up with its constituents.


Council director community services Antoinette Campbell said it's part of the process to complete a detailed business case for the expansion plan, named Project Shapeshifter: Redefining our National Aquarium.

The vision is being shared at a series of workshops with stakeholders including iwi, youth and leaders from the fields of conservation, research, education and tourism, in the preparation of a business case funded by contributions from the council and the Government Provincial Growth Fund, each of $350,000.

Campbell said that once the sector workshops are completed and feedback collated - possibly before Christmas - the public will be invited to participate by sharing their thoughts about the project.

""We are hopeful that once people have had a chance to see how Project Shapeshifter is developing, they will be just as enthusiastic and excited about the huge potential of this project, and proud that such an inspirational and provocative facility is located in their region."

Combined feedback will feed into the detailed business case due to be presented to Government.

The sector workshops are seen as a crucial part of the business case development and according to Campbell "will help ensure from the outset that we have a plan to deliver a truly game-changing national aquarium for the region and our country."

The name Project Shapeshifter is emblematic of Māui – the "shapeshifter" and great East Polynesian ancestor-explorer of the Pacific Ocean. Campbell said: "Our challenge is to be bold and adventurous like Māui – to be a shapeshifter and game-changer."

"A modern aquarium that reconnects people with our aquatic environment, and showcases aquatic life and humanity's interdependence with it, will help people understand what goes on under the water and how our everyday actions can affect those fragile environments – both positively and negatively."


She said the council is looking for "new and innovative" ways to externally fund the construction and ongoing operational costs, mindful that the cost cannot fall solely on ratepayers.

At the time of the growth fund announcement a year ago, the council had hopes of starting next year and opening the new facility in 2023, but it's latest statement statement forecasts an opening in 2025 — almost 70 years after visionaries opened the city's first aquarium in the basement areas of the Napier War Memorial Centre.

The aquarium was established on its current site in 1976, and $8m was spent on an expansion project which saw it being named the National Aquarium of New Zealand in 2002. Proposals to expand the aquarium again surfaced publicly in 201'6.

Key partners already include Air New Zealand, University of Waikato, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Hawke's Bay Tourism and Nagi Kahungunu and other iwi representatives in the region.