20 Nov 2023

Businesses reliant on Cathedral Cove may miss out on usual summer trade, despite SH25A re-opening

From Checkpoint, 5:50 pm on 20 November 2023

The Coromandel is getting an early Christmas, with State Highway 25A opening three months ahead of schedule.

But holding back their cheers are some near Cathedral Cove who may miss out on the usual summer trade. 

According to a recovery plan update from Thames Coromandel District Council and the Mercury Bay Business Association, in November 38 percent of businesses expected their position to worsen. 

Tourism expenditure in June this year was up 31.7 percent overall for the country compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile expenditure for the Thames-Coromandel District was down 4.6 percent. 

View of the Cathedral Cove from the ocean.

View of the Cathedral Cove from the ocean. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Since Cyclone Gabrielle hit the area in February, the popular walking track to Cathedral Cove has been closed

The Department of Conservation closed the tourism draw card after 180 landslides, historic and recent, were discovered along the track. Large piles of debris still cover the sandy beach. 

In October, a Rāhui for the area was lifted but the only access to the cove remains by boat or kayak

Upon landing on the shore, people must remain 10 metres away from any cliffs or rock and they cannot walk underneath the famed archway.

RNZ spoke to several tourists in the area, who were there hoping to visit the cove.

"We were hoping to do the walk. We were told it was 75 minutes from here but there was no sign up to say it was closed and we only found out by speaking to somebody on the beach." 

"They told us that we could only get there by boat and unfortunately, due to the weather, we weren't able to do it at this time in the afternoon," said one woman.   

Another person RNZ spoke to had kayaked to Cathedral Cove. 

"It's doable for persons below 50, I think... you have to be in a good condition then it's possible, but it's a bit windy." 

Owners of the Hahei Eatery and Ice Cream shop Gavvy Mohd and Preethi Arora said word of the cove's closure had not reached many tourists, leaving them disappointed when they arrived. 

"They really drive [a] long way to come over here and visit the Cathedral Cove, so it is frustrating for everyone." 

Owners of the Hahei Eatery and Ice Cream shop Gavvy Mohd and Preethi Arora.

Owners of the Hahei Eatery and Ice Cream shop Gavvy Mohd and Preethi Arora. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The pair took over the business last September, expecting a busy summer. Instead, the wild weather, slips and road closures have seen their business plummet over 50 percent on last year.

They said the Department of Conservation has not been keeping businesses in the loop. 

"We are not getting any updates like when they're gonna open it." 

Ray Van Beynen from the Mercury Bay Business Association said Cathedral Cove usually attracted up to 300,000 people a year. 

But because of the tracks' closure they were going to places like Rotorua or Taupo.  

"People are phoning up from overseas as soon as they hear that the cove or the cove track is closed, they are bypassing us. You know, from an economic and social perspective, the peninsula can't handle that tremendous loss of revenue," said Van Beynen.

He said they had tried to offer materials, funding and labour to help repair the track. However, the offers had either been declined or were not even responded to.

He said DOC was not taking the impact of the closure on businesses seriously. 

"Under their charter, under their act, they've got responsibilities for providing access for recreation and tourism and they're just focusing on what they say is conservation. There has to be a happy balance with this." 

The Cathedral Cove Water Taxi operates from Hahei beach. Richie McNabb has been operating the boat service while the owner is on leave. 

He said the track closure has been another huge blow for the Coromandel but encouraged visitors to keep boat tours in mind.

"It's no secret, it's devastating what's been going on over the last couple of summers, you know, everyone's getting absolutely flogged from it, but you know, the good times will come back ... there's a lot of good operating boat tours." 

Richie McNabb and Briar Palmer from Cathedral Cove Water Taxi.

Richie McNabb and Briar Palmer from Cathedral Cove Water Taxi. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The Department of Conservation confirmed the Cathedral Cove track would not be open this summer and signage has been installed at the beach to let visitors know what the rules are.

While out at the cove, however, RNZ saw some tourists running underneath the archway. Many tourists said the rules were not well signposted.

"I don't think there was enough signs, at least to the falling rocks and not to go under."  

One tourist said that people were aware of the signs but chose to ignore them. 

"There were a couple of stragglers that managed to go under some of the fallen debris and weren't paying attention to the signs."  

In a statement, DOC Hauraki-Waikato-Taranaki regional director Tinaka Mearns said "DOC understands and acknowledges Cathedral Cove is important to the business community".

The feedback DOC had been getting was that experiencing Cathedral Cove by boat was actually "richer and more meaningful for visitors".

DOC had placed numerous signs explaining the rules to visitors but they had been tampered with in the past, she said.

 "It's very frustrating for us to see it removed," Mearns said.

She said staff had met with the Mercury Bay Business Association but its proposal for the track would not be suitable.

For now, DOC continues to urge the public to follow the rules and remain off the track - "it is unsafe, rock and debris continue to fall".