26 Oct 2018

Hope remains for Waiwera hot pools despite decline

12:09 pm on 26 October 2018

Many Aucklanders have fond childhood memories of zooming down waterslides or soaking in hot pools at the Waiwera Thermal Resort.

The Waiwera Thermal Resort and Spa.

The Waiwera Thermal Resort and Spa. Photo: Google Maps

But for the past two years or so there have been regular, lengthy closures, while promises that its ageing facilities will be refurbished have gone unfulfilled.

Waiwera residents hope their thermal pools will once again become a tourist hotspot after languishing under the management of a Russian billionaire and his diamond dealing associate.

The lease on the resort was cancelled and the locks changed yesterday after the leaseholder, Waiwera Thermal Resort Limited, failed to pay its bills.

Waiwera resident Kiran Chandra runs the Sugarloaf Beach Bar across the road, and the local minimart.

She said her businesses' turnover plummeted since February last year, when the park started closing, ostensibly for renovations.

"I would say [we have lost] 80 to 90 percent on both businesses since last February. And then last year we suffered but then we had this hope that something new was going to happen," she said.

"It is a big, big, huge blow."

Mrs Chandra was especially unimpressed by the way the resort's managers, Waiwera Thermal Resort Limited, have kept locals in the dark about what's going on.

"We were relying on their words because first I was told it's opening sometime in August. And then we were told they were opening on October 19 ... and then I was told it was opening on December 2 - and their website said that as well."

During its heyday, it's estimated the resort and associated water bottling company hired upwards of 100 people.

The land itself is owned by Waiwera Properties.

An unrelated company, Waiwera Thermal Resort, has owned the lease to use it since 2010.

Its majority shareholder is Russian billionaire Mikhail Khimich, while minority shares are owned by California-based diamond tycoon Leon Fingerhut.

It's understood Mr Fingerhut was involved in the day-to-day management of the resort, while Moscow-based Mr Khimich had little to do with operations.

Waiwera resident Bob Kelly said the pools were the community's life-blood.

"That's the only industry here in Waiwera and since the pools have been taken over by a certain overseas gentleman, it's gone downhill," he said.

"We've seen the whole community suffer. You know, the place is sort of dead now; where we had lots of children and laughter and fun, the whole place is silent now. It's just dead."

However, like many Waiwera locals who spoke to RNZ, Mr Kelly is optimistic that the pools can be restored to their former glory.

"We believe that from now on something positive will come from it. I mean, three lots of contractors have been working on upgrading the site but each one has abandoned the site because they haven't been paid," he said.

"Now we hear that the owners of the land that the pools are on - they haven't been paid either."

Evan Vertue is a director of the landowner company Waiwera Properties.

He said the resort's operators had been late on about 10 rent payments over two years and had been consistently warned.

"We've just got to the stage now that, as a normal commercial response, we decided to... cancel the lease and we have re-entered the property."

Mr Vertue gave the Waiwera community - and waterslide lovers - some cause for optimism about the park's future.

"There's nothing we would like more than to see it reopened and regain its former glory," he said.

No-one from Waiwera Thermal Resort Limited could be reached for comment last night.

Mr Khimich has been the subject of previous Tenancy Tribunal orders related to unpaid rent.