Wellington Street Beach might not be Piha or Anchorage Bay but in the landlocked city of Hamilton, it is an iconic destination.
On a hot day, the strip of sand on the east bank of the Waikato River is full of school kids doing manu off the jetty, and residents having a paddle to cool off. Storms and river level fluctuations this year have caused the jetty to collapse and the city council is planning a $1.7 million makeover for the park and beach area.
However, the public is split on how to enhance the beach while retaining its charm.
In 2013, Hamilton enthusiast Mark Servian nominated Wellington Street Beach as one of New Zealand’s ‘best beaches’ in a competition run by the Green Party.
“It’s got sand, it’s got water, it’s very popular,” Servian said.
It placed sixth, ahead of famous beaches like Cathedral Cove, Chums Beach and Piha.
“It’s clear that people come from some distance away to swim there. It’s probably a different demographic than the sorts of people that go to swimming pools I’d say; they tend to be young, tend to be Māori.”
He said the area had stayed the same for the 35 years he had been visiting. He is generally supportive of the council’s proposed changes, which include making it easier to have picnics by adding shade and barbecue areas, improving sight lines from the road to the beach, and replacing the toliet block.
But he did not want it to be made too flash.
“It’s not the sort of place you want to be putting inflatable bouncy castles or anything like that.”
Deidre MacDonald and Paula Clements have lived near Wellington Street Beach for 25 years. They attended an information drop-in session with the council about the changes, and are not so sure much is needed.
“All we want is the kids to be able to jump into the water if they want,” Clements said.
“Put in a safe jetty if that’s the issue.”
Hamilton City Council are proposing three possible locations for a new toilet block, but Clements and MacDonald are not convinced.
“I mean it’s not beautiful to look at, I can see that, but we can smarten it up,” MacDonald said.
Hamilton City Council parks and recreation unit director Maria Barrie said the local neighbours were engaged and loved their beach.
But she pointed out that people came from all over the city to use it, and said they would appreciate some new facilities.
Local heritage consultant, Ann McEwan, recently researched Wellington Street Beach after her attention was drawn to the jetty removal part of the upgrade.
She discovered the beach had been used recreationally from at least the 1930s, if not before, and has seen some important events in the life of the city.
“Te Winiki, which is the stunning waka that’s the premiere exhibit really in the Waikato Museum, according to the newspapers of the day the waka sailed for the last time on the river between Wellington Street Beach and a bank further north.”
Do note though, Wellington Street Beach is not on Wellington Street. It’s on Jellicoe Drive.
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