Te Mata Peak: When a local squabble becomes national news

by Bill Ralston / 28 January, 2018
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Walkers use the controversial Te Mata Peak walking track. Photo/Getty Images

Who could have predicted a track up a hillside would cause such a fuss? Anyone, actually.

Late last year, I was driving along Waimarama Rd, heading for Ocean Beach, when, as I passed the Craggy Range vineyard on the banks of the Tukituki River, I glanced up to the right at Te Mata Peak. Zigzagging its way up the face of the range to the summit was a recently built walking track.

There will be a shit fight over that, I thought. In the news drought of the silly season, it became much more than that: the local squabble became national news and a classic example of how the best of intentions can go wrong.

The row began, as so many do, with someone doing something for the best of motives. The folk at Craggy Range thought it would give a nice amenity to the public and spent $300,000 digging the track up the hillside.

 

It had non-notified consent from the local council, which did not seem to feel the need to undertake public consultation.

Unsurprisingly, the local iwi, Ngāti Kahungunu, felt it should have been consulted over what was proposed for the ancestrally important mountain that it calls Te Mata o Rongokako. One distinguished kuia told her family, with vivid imagery, “They’ve cut my koro’s throat.” Actually, now I think about it, the track does look like a long jagged razor slash.

A protest group opposed to the track appeared virtually overnight and a petition to get rid of it attracted several thousand signatures before the New Year. Caught in the headlights of an oncoming public ruckus, the Hastings District Council appeared to freeze. No one seemed to know anything about any decision to build the path until it was finally revealed that a couple of councillors were consulted but did not bother to tell the mayor or their council colleagues because they thought it was just a proposal and would require resource consent. It did not.

Horrified at the flak, Craggy Range immediately promised to remove the long jagged track. “Following discussions with mana whenua and other concerned groups this week, Craggy Range Winery has decided the best resolution to the concerns surrounding its new walking track on Te Mata Peak’s eastern slope is to remove the track, restore the land and return it to the previous owner,” the winery declared in a statement.

Another protest group formed, this one dedicated to saving the track, and launched a counter-petition. Hundreds of people every day ignored the fact the path was officially unopened and, in fact, closed and walked up and down it.

It became the No 1 topic of cautious conversation in the Bay. Friends and family members took opposing sides of the argument. Leave it alone for a year and see if it weathers into a less garish sight, said some. Cover the rock path with soil; you can retain it and you will hardly notice it, said others. You will do more damage by removing it than letting it remain, was another line of debate. Get rid of it, was the opposing argument.

I am a recent arrival in the Bay. The community seems fiercely split over the issue, so probably it is best if I don’t put my head above the parapet in this row.

The track is damned ugly and Māori were justifiably outraged at the cavalier way it was built. But there are plenty of locals seemingly keen to make the long near-vertical trudge up to Te Mata Peak. Why would you do that? There is a perfectly good road to the summit on the other side of the mountain. I will take the trek when someone installs an escalator.

This article was first published in the January 27, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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