12 Sep 2023

Roads, petrol prices and kaimoana: Te Araroa on the election

5:59 am on 12 September 2023
Rick Metcalfe and Roslyn Hepana at their Four Square in Te Araroa, East Coast

Rick Metcalfe and Roslyn Hepana outside their Four Square store in Te Araroa. Photo: RNZ / Mahvash Ikram

First Up reporter Leonard Powell went on a road trip from Whakatane around the East Cape to test the tone of the East Coast's towns, before the election. This is the second story from that series.

Te Araroa on the East Cape is a picturesque place - home to New Zealand's oldest and largest pohutukawa, and one of the first spots in the country to see the sun rise.

The Eastern FourSquare is a hub of the isolated town, with staff and locals at the store all on a first name basis.

Rick Metcalfe and his wife Roslyn Hepana have run the shop since 2018 - and appreciated the love they had received.

Hepana said everyone in town was like "one big happy family", and everyone in the community supported each other.

Melcalfe hoped the new government would set the balance right for places like Te Araroa and the wider East Coast.

"The people here are at the bottom of every statistic - poverty, health, mental, health, social wellbeing, housing."

"There's massive inequity in this country and it's uncomfortable to talk about for a lot of people, and probably for the majority of people who don't have that inequity. And therefore it's, you know, it's just moaning people."

Metcalfe believed Te Pāti Māori were doing work to bring the issue front and centre, but he said it was time for the major parties to also step up.

"Labour's kind of making the right noises, National concerns me a little bit, that they will fall off that and for me that's massive for the whole of Aotearoa going forward. We need to redress the equality between Māori and Europeans."

Outside, a local iwi health provider Ngati Porou Oranga was holding a sausage sizzle. Their Whānau Care Road Show had come around the coast.

The bright blue uniforms, friendly smiles and loud music made the crew hard to miss.

Acting team leader Makere Kaa said tamariki were at the centre of their work

"[Our work is] to support the transition of Ngati Porou tamariki in Oranga Tamariki care back to the iwi."

"What that might look like is bringing them back to, if not their immediate whānau, then someone in their extended [whānau] or someone from their hapū, which is just the larger collective of their immediate whānau."

"To enable us to do that, we need caregivers. So that's the other reason we're doing the roadshow to promote the kaupapa and to recruit for caregivers."

Te Araroa on the East Cape

Te Araroa on the East Cape Photo: RNZ/ Mahvash Ikram

Out on the street, locals talked openly about their concerns. One man said the price of fuel and the rural-urban divide was harder for some people.

"Keep our petrol [prices] down.

"Those who live in town can walk, can go where they want to go. We can't.

"I can walk across the road, but most of these fellas have to go miles for any sort of amenities."

The state of roads was a key concern for many on the isolated coast.

Hoani said he was concerned about navigating the treacherous roads: "Our roads are shocking." Some parts of the road that were being worked on did not even need to be fixed, he said.

"They're just putting a plaster over the broken stuff, and then two days later is the old tyres coming off again."

Up the hill above Wharekahika / Hicks Bay sits the base of roading contractors EC Civil. Co-owner Cristall McClutchie said their crew had been busy repairing roads post cyclone - but now she was worried about the funds drying up.

"Our company was working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hour days, and the relief funding is running out.

"We've had to scale back with some workers and just in how we're doing the job now."

McClutchie said the coast's fragile road network desperately needed more investment.

"[We] just need more funding [for] fixing up the roading here because it's just shocking.

"So people have access to come out, from especially the back roads, where those could be just potentially washed out and they've got no access out."

Back in Te Araroa, Sarah Jamieson was concerned with the environment. She came from a long line of commercial fishermen in her family, but wanted to see changes.

"Replenishment of the ocean is probably my biggest issue. I've watched it decline in the last 40 years and we need to do something for the children so they have something later."

Jamieson said the future looked bleak, especially for the small village of Horoera.

"You couldn't walk there without standing on kina, and now they hide away when you go on the water. That's sad."

At the Four Square, Christine had just finished her shopping. She had not voted for the past decade, her rationale was similar to others on the coast.

"They are all the same. They promise things, but they never do it.

"I know they focus more on the cities and not the country because we're always left for last"

She smiled, and shrugged it off.

"We just carry on with our lives, you know, and do what we do."

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