• Keith Newman

Marina, theme park opposed

Proposals to turn the Cape Coast into a tourist Mecca; redesigning Te Awanga around a diverted Maraetotara river and a gannet theme park on Cape Kidnappers, caught locals by surprise in recent decades.


The first was deadly serious and got so far as a consent application, the second seemed too outrageous to be true, and indeed proved to be a prank played by the local newspaper.


Concrete contractor John Cheetham’s plan to create a man-made lake and marina hit the news in October 1987 after an application was lodged with the Hawke's Bay Regional Development Council for a grant to carry out a feasibility study.


The multi-million dollar proposal for a marina and resort development with residential sections and art deco and Mediterranean-style shops around a lake in Te Awanga would involve extensive earthworks and the diversion of the Maraetotara ‘stream’.

1987. An artist’s impression of proposed multimillion dollar marina and coastal resort which would be developed on the Clifton side of Te Awanga settlement with more than 200 sections surrounding a 3.2 ha man-made lake.
Proposed Te Awanga Marina

The Hawke's Bay Regional Development Council was “excited” and “unanimously supported” a bid for a feasibility study grant, according to marketing executive Peter Reynolds. "Every now and again we get an application for a grant which really shines – this is one of those,” he said.


Part of the feasibility study involved investigating the effect caused by a breakwater on the drift of shingle along the coast.


Cheetham, after “months” of discussions with “local body engineers and representatives of Government departments”, claimed he had strong support, believing the project would provide employment in the wake of the closure of the Whakatu Freezing Works.


The 48 ha marina and resort on grazing land required soil to be scooped out to form a 3.2 ha lake then used to lift the level of the surrounding residential sites by more than two metres.


“About 60 of the sections would have frontages on the lake and small individual jetties would provide moorings for private boats. The lake would be fed by diverting the Maraetotara stream and a new river mouth formed.”


To protect the entrance to the marina a long breakwater would be built. “The remainder of the sections would front on to an internal roading system linked to Clifton Rd.”


A feature of the layout would be an island-like projection of land, possibly linked by a bridge, which would accommodate shops, a restaurant and other commercial buildings. A beach would be formed on the south-eastern side of the lake using white sands and a broad stretch of the seafront would be left without buildings to create an uncluttered picnic and recreational zone.


Cheetham and his wife Paula had returned from Queensland’s Gold Coast to settle locally and believed the marina and resort would be a boost to tourism in the region and give Hawke’s Bay people a chance to invest in the province.


Then mayor Jeremy Dwyer, was apparently impressed with the vision shown by Mr Cheetham. Te Awanga Resort proposed.


Within days locals were up in arms claiming this development would not only shatter the peaceful atmosphere of the area and put beachfront properties at further risk than they already were through the threat of coastal erosion.


A group of Kuku St residents offered a range of responses from shock to total disbelief. Letters to the editor poured in “exceedingly unwise...we don’t want a “Pauanui-style development here”...“I cannot find one thing in its favour.”


“I would fight tooth and nail to see it never happens,” said Mrs Leonie Heaps of Burden’s Motor Camp. “A multi-million dollar marina would blend into this environment about as well as a casino in Ongaonga,” said G.T and L.J Hills.


Brent and Brenda Cushing wrote complaining that the natural northerly drift of shingle would be interrupted. Would the Lake not become stagnant and what about the Maraetotara rising suddenly as it has over many years without warning.” Resort marine plan irks some, HB Tribune Oct 12,1987


The Hawke’s Bay Acclimatisation Society then weighed into the debate concerned about the impact of the river diversion. There’s no record of the report being completed or whether the opposition proved too strong but that seemed to be the end of the matter.


Giving the bird


The ire of locals was raised again in 2004 when US billionaire Julian Robertson was planning his international golf course and resort on land he had purchased at the top of Cape Kidnappers.


His intention to create accommodation dug into the cliff face with an expansive view out over Hawke Bay had been given consent by the Hastings District Council then after a major furore that went all the way to the Environment Court it was overturned and he chose another location.


It was strange news to hear so shortly after that environmental win that another major project was on the cards. Hackles were raised again when Hawke’s Bay Today announced Cape Kidnappers was to become the site of a world class theme park called Gannets Landing.


Apparently a group of American businessmen who had formed the Kidnappers company had reached an agreement with Mr Robertson to acquire a prominent piece of his land, “visible from Napier, and ‘ideally suited’ to this sort of venture (with) the potential to be among the top 10 theme parks in the world.


A Spokesman for the Kidnappers Spokesperson Brian Sidebotham suggested the Hastings Council which has initially approved Robertson’s plans for the sun room might be “the kind of people they could do business with”. An artist’s impression of the park showed a 10ha site including a 30m tall gannet beak entrance gate, several eateries, a gannet museum and New Zealand’s largest roller coaster.


“Takapu Tioki, the gannet rider would seat up to 20 people at a time and run along a monorail track to simulate a gannets flight. Passengers inside the module would be launched from the theme park before soaring along the Cape’s sheer cliffs and making a 90 degree dive into the sea....briefly running along the seafloor before popping back to the surface and climbing back to the theme park.”

Sidebotham, said HB Today, did not expect problems gaining consent “only a birdbrain would oppose this”.


When locals and those who had so vocally opposed Robertson plans for luxury accommodation on the side of Cape Kidnappers calmed down they would have realised the article was satire, with the date April 1 2005 a dead giveaway.


The newspaper however printed a statement the next day confirming that it did indeed have a sense of humour, reassuring people the story wasn’t true.


Sources:

Herald Tribune, Brendan Webb, Oct 10, 1987

River diversion plan to be probed, HB Acclimatisation Society concerns raised, HB Herald, 14 Oct10 1987

Gannet Disneyland set for Cape, 1-04-2005, HB Today

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