Terawhiti - the Stampede that never was
The coastline of the South-West bottom of the North Island is about as remote, barren and as wind-swept as any part of New Zealand. Despite being right on the doorstep of New Zealand's Capital city, Wellington, few people even realise it is there and all but a few hardy souls have explored it. During the 1850s, there was a failed gold-mining operation.
Today, the area, consisting of about 25,000 acres of wilderness lands, is mostly a marginal sheep and cattle farm and true to its nature, it has one of the most productive wind farms in the world.
I fell in love with Terawhiti. It was so wild and remote. With permission to access the area, Alofa and my children made many expeditions by mountain bikes exploring wide and far. Here are some photos from one ride in about 2002 that Alofa, Myra and I did from Makara township through Terawhiti and back. Awesome!
In 2003 I proposed to Wellington City Council that we organise a mass community cycling, running and walking event to rival anything else like it in New Zealand which I called the "Terawhiti Stampede".
The idea was to have three challenging events in one, all starting and finishing from Makara Village and coinciding with their village fair.
I pitched the idea to John Dawson, Manager of Wellington City's Summer City Programme. The Council loved the idea and a feasibility study was undertaken and I presented to the Council in 2003. The event concept had the endorsement of the Grace Family who own Terawhiti Station, the other landowners, including Long Gulley and the Makara Community Association. It was determined that all of the health and safety requirements could be met. The Council was prepared to underwrite the event for several years by which time our budget forecasts were that it would be commercially viable. It was planned to bring in a professional event management company to run the event. So it was all set to go! Until...
A wind farm was proposed for Terawhiti Station! Everything came to a grinding halt as Meridian, the proposers of the wind farm sought planning and resource consents. The Makara community was strongly against it. We had to back off and wait while the rather intense and sometimes acrimonious hearings proceeded. This dragged on for several years then there were years of construction. The area was a "no-go" one. The Terawhiti Stampede was dead in the water.
I do not think there will ever be a Terawhiti Stampede, although I still love the idea.
The Terawhiti Grand Traverse
What I am now championing is a Grand Traverse of the wild South Coast of Wellington, beginning at Red Rocks near Owhiro Bay and skirting the coastline right around to Makara. It could even be extended to Titahi Bay then over the Skyline from Porirua using existing trails to end in Central Wellington via Polhill Gulley Reserve.
The Grand Traverse will be a walking and cycling trail that may also be very suitable for horse trekking. The trail through Terawhiti will use existing trails and four-wheel drive tracks. Little is needed in the way of construction other than signage and safe means of crossing fencelines for walkers and cyclists.
The main obstacle is gaining access from the landowners, ensuring safety and gaining funding for its setup and ongoing maintenance, including access fees.
The Whareroa and Belmont Farms are excellent examples of how working farms can operate as Regional Parks, with access to the public.
It fits beautifully with the greening of the greater Wellington Region as well as the ambitious plans to make the region predator-free.
One of the challenges for Wellington is getting tourists to stay in Wellington for several days and spend their money here. Most stay just a short while before moving on to the adventure capitals of New Zealand; Rotorua and Queenstown. We can and should be competing for the "active" domestic and international tourists.
Just think about it. Here we are in the Capital City of New Zealand and we have one of the wildest and most remote areas sitting right on our doorstep. Visitors to our city can roll out of their luxurious hotel beds and be on their hired e-Bikes for a guided Grand Tour of the South Coast, finishing at a bar and cafe in the city at the end of a long but breath-taking day. The route could include homestay at Terawhiti Station or at Makara Beach. If not to stay overnight, certainly for rest and refreshments along the way. Ther is no question that this will be a popular destination for both tourists and local.
I think the next step is over to the politicians of Wellington City Council and the Wellington Regional Council grab this idea and run with it. It really does need to be actioned now before there are any more subdivision and development of the area.