13 Feb 2024

Concern over Cathedral Cove visitor numbers if DOC opts for different track

1:48 pm on 13 February 2024
Regional Spotlight - Coromandel Cathedral Cove.

Overland access to go down to the cove has been closed since last February, although passengers on boats can come ashore. Photo: Supplied

Coromandel residents are worried the Department of Conservation is planning to reroute access to Cathedral Cove through private land.

Overland access to the cove has been closed since last February, and last month DOC's regional director Tinaka Mearns said it would remained closed while staff looked at options.

Owner of The Pour House in Hahei, Karen Vowles, told RNZ rerouting over private land could mean people could no longer visit the famous beach and DOC could be doing a lot more if it wanted to open the public track.

"It's just got so bad now; I just don't think they want to do anything because it would be like eating humble pie."

Asked directly by RNZ if DOC was considering rerouting through private land, Mearns did not deny it. She said the department continued to engage with neighbouring landowners around options.

"We are looking into a range of options and speaking to number of people. It is too early to go into specifics," she said.

Visitors can currently pay to park on private land at Lees Rd and follow the Cathedral Cove Gateway Trail to a platform and view the cove. The only current access to the beach itself is by sea.

Last year, the department commissioned a Tonkin + Taylor report into the stability and safety of the track.

Mercury Bay Business Association spokesperson Ray Van Beynen said DOC took the report from Tonkin + Taylor and applied its own risk matrix to it.

He said most tracks in the country would close if that risk matrix was applied to them.

Vowles agreed and said DOC was completely ignoring the Tonkin + Taylor report.

"The Tonkin + Taylor report was quite an extensive report. They basically [said] it's nowhere near as bad - it's not even bad."

Mearns said DOC's visitor safety team reviewed the report and set it against their visitor safety framework, which led to the decision to keep the track closed.

"The Tonkin + Taylor report stated the track between Hahei and the Cathedral Cove carpark is described as 'particularly hazardous' due to existing landslides and the potential for more. Tonkin + Taylor also noted the stairs at the bottom of the existing route would be prone to storm damage," she said.

Mearns said that the Tonkin + Taylor report noted the Cathedral Cove track could be rerouted, albeit with continued landslide risk, or an engineered solution could mean the track could stay in its current location.

"This would be a particularly complex and costly repair," Mearns said.

Vowles said DOC has been "totally inept" at dealing with the track damage and should be doing a lot more to get it open again.

DOC programme manager cyclone recovery Matt Flynn said that 46 tracks in the North Island were currently closed as a result of extreme weather events. Eleven or nearly 25 percent of these, were in the Coromandel area.

Speaking on Nine to Noon last week Tairua business owner Maree Smith said that overseas visitors were still not coming back to Coromandel in the numbers they once were.

She put that down to the fact that Cathedral Cove was one of the main Coromandel attractions for overseas visitors.

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