Category Archives: Otago Peninsula

Portobello has been a popular visitor area for 120 years

A Quiet Corner of the World

A Leopard Seal on a Peninsula Beach has come from Antarctica to enjoy the sun. International visitors of any kind have been rare on the Otago Peninsula since March 2020.

Its been noticeably quiet on the Otago Peninsula  with the latest Covid-19 related lockdown and our progression into level two.  As we move into spring and the days get longer the Peninsula begins awakening and preparing for summer. Both people and animals begin to shrug off the last vestiges of winter as the lawnmower gets dusted off and birds begin their frantic nest building in garages and trees around our community.

However, one thing that has not been awakened has been the visitor and tourism sector. Since our first lockdown in March 2020  and our second in August 2021 our local tourism industry has been under significant pressure. In 2019, New Zealand’s tourism industry generated $40.9 billion NZD in revenue (nearly 10% to New Zealand’s GDP) and creating nearly 400,000 jobs. This equates to 14.4% of all employment in New Zealand  working in a tourism related job (Stats NZ 2019). The Otago Peninsula’s reliance on international visitors is demonstrated by research that conservatively suggests that wildlife alone on the Otago Peninsula generates $100 million NZD annually and creates 800-1000 full-time equivalent jobs in the Dunedin area. With a record drop of 12.2% in GDP the contribution of tourism to the national economy has been keenly felt. The hours worked in the tourism industry has declined from 12%-59% across New Zealand.  This has been particularly high in Otago with a 32% decline in hours worked (Stats NZ 2020).

The 1980’s campaign to see more of New Zealand was developed to encourage domestic tourism. In the post Covid-19 climate domestic tourism would need to increase 72% to deal with the loss of international visitors.

After the eventual return to level one in 2020 there was a significant effort to encourage New Zealanders to travel and use local tourist services as domestic travellers. There was certainly some return on that campaign, but economically domestic tourism would need to increase by 72% to completely fill the void left by international tourism. (NZ Tourism, November 2020). Around 60% in tourism-related expenditure is either directly or indirectly generated by domestic tourism. Nationally, only in Auckland and Otago (including the Peninsula) does the international tourism expenditure outstrip domestic travellers. (ASB)

After the 2020 lockdown there was discussion about needing to “reset’ tourism in the wake of the closure of our borders. Certainly, its been a time to contemplate change, but just how much change remains debatable. Until we can open international borders safely and ensure that visitors and the local populace are vaccinated we remain very much in limbo. With the Australian response to the virus so varied and inconsistent it seems doubtful we’ll see one of our major markets open up to the industry for some time. I hope I’m wrong, because Covid-19 has been particularly tough on the visitor sector on the Otago Peninsula. Not too mention the prolonged Level 4 status of Auckland in 2021 which has not made the current conditions any easier. Finding solutions to this issue is not simple and finding the balance between opening up New Zealand’s borders and containing the spread of this deadly virus is a difficult one to navigate. Presently, all we can do is support those local businesses in our area by shopping local, supporting their events and recommending to all in sundry what they have to offer. Next time you meet someone who works in the tourism sector give them a smile and thank them for boxing on in very trying times.

 

The Year of the Mask

The Board continues to open the public water tap during lockdown as part of its service

It’s funny what you think about when you’re in a queue. It’s not as philosophical as Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot,’ rather it’s more of the brain meandering through the mundane. Crossing off  and dotting the mental t’s and i’s. Waiting outside the Portobello store on the Otago Peninsula during lockdown with people you’ve known for years is just part of the unworldly experiences Covid19 has brought to our community. Not for the first time our psychological masks have been replaced with real ones and our unguarded moments have become guarded ones.
The sense of openness that normally pervades our community has been closed off lately as we try to make sense of things beyond our familial bubble. Not that the humanity or good humour of people has disappeared from Peninsula, but is hard to remain positive under an itchy layer of fabric or thin disposable paper. Spare a thought too for those of us who for whatever reason seem to have unusually shaped heads. I have personally found finding a mask that actually fits across my face and over my ears extremely challenging. I have resorted to using a bandana which when entering the local store looks as though I’m going rob the place.

Mask selection can be difficult during lockdown, though a 17th century plaque mask should not be your first choice

Speaking of paper masks, when Lockdown’21 was first announced the last thing I was thinking about was how much toilet paper we had in the house. Its extraordinary that what we wipe our bum with is a major source of panic-buying and hoarding in New Zealand.  It says a lot about the New Zealand psyche that as long as we have toilet paper and alcohol we can survive anything! The panic-buying is the one thing that during lockdown reveals the worst in people. On the other hand having our store and pharmacy open says a lot about the services that we have here on the Otago Peninsula. Not too mention the men and women of the volunteer fire brigade, medical centre and our hardworking sole charge police officer. It’s those services and the people that run them that reminds you there are people in our community who care.  

Perhaps one of the other surprising things about Lockdown’21 has been seeing police checkpoints on the Portobello Road and in the main street of Portobello. The fact that we actually need to have a checkpoint is worrying, given that we are supposed to be in our own bubbles and undertaking recreation within our own neighbourhood. Over the last few weeks though the Otago Peninsula has had a significant number of visitors and the numbers from outside of the Peninsula community have been substantial. As a tourist and visitor destination we normally welcome visitors, but I’m afraid this time we have to be more cautious. Saying that though, a second lockdown is hard on our local businesses who rely on the visitor market for their revenue. The quicker we develop safe travel through vaccination and quarantine practices the better off those businesses will be. 

With today being the first day of Level 3 its hard not to have some sense of positivity that we are nearing the end of the Lockdown’21, but we must continue to be vigilant and cautious. I just hope there will be enough toilet paper to go around.

Power to the Pupils

Participation in local government, particularly in elections should be looked upon as one of our great shames. With only 42% of eligible New Zealand voters bothering to cast a ballot in Council elections, we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that we may not approve of or support. Just why we are so apathetic when it comes to voting for the people who raise our rates, dog registrations and pool fees is as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle. Our apathy in participating in local government processes is deeply concerning given the deep reach that Council’s have into out lives and our pockets. Recently, my 19 year old student daughter was home from her flat and the topic of the national elections came up. My wife and I were horrified when she said she wasn’t enrolled and probably wouldn’t bother to vote! What kind of monster had we raised, or had our real daughter been abducted by aliens? Understandably, there were harsh words in the Pope family, accusatory finger wagging and eventually a promise to get enrolled which she did. It’s not just young people who are apathetic about government and its processes, how often have I heard people say they won’t participate because “they won’t listen anyway.” My argument to that pearl, is that it may take a few attempts, but eventually you will prevail.

I raise our apathy about local government because the City Council is now working towards the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan and Council is beginning the process of asking what are our priorities. Similarly, Community Boards are working on those priorities in their Community Plans for presentation to Council on behalf of their communities. Its too easy for the community to allow the Board to act and speak for them, when actually Board’s need vocal people to support them. If we all don’t actively participate in this process we may miss out on seeing our community needs met or worse. With participation so important it was a great pleasure to have representatives of the three Peninsula schools at our recent Community Board meeting. Their presentations were intelligent and insightful, and they focused on a great range of topics that affect them in our Peninsula community. The Board was very impressed with their ideas and they have set a standard for the rest of the community.

(Written for The Star Community Voice, 1st October 2020) 

Waitangi Day at Otakou

When you live on the Otago Peninsula you are living in a rich cultural and historical landscape that extends over the many generations whose descendants are part of our community today. The Peninsula sits on a crossroads of historical people and events that defines not only our community but gives its name Otakou to the very region we live in. I’m always reminded of this at the Waitangi Day celebrations held recently at Otakou Marae. The celebrations held every three years at Otakou are an important reminder that the Treaty document was actually signed here in June, 1840 as it was taken around the country on the naval vessel H.M.S Herald for signing by other chiefs. The history of the Treaty in New Zealand has not always been a happy one and even today we still must face up to the realities of its requirements and acknowledge its place in the way we live together. Significantly, we should be reminded that it is a foundation of partnership and a pathway to lead us forward collectively and individually.

Bharatanatyam dancers from Natyaloka School of Indian Dance at Otakou Marae

One of the things I enjoy about Waitangi Day at Otakou is that I meet old acquaintances I don’t see very often, and I meet new people I have not met before. In the warm embrace of the marae the opportunity to enjoy the company of people is a highlight for me. The cultural celebrations of the many different organisations at Otakou were a wonderful addition to this year’s event. What impressed me was that many of the participants in those groups were young people, who were proud of who they were and where they come from. There is a lesson to be learned from that and a reminder that it will be those young people who will carry the mantle of partnership into the future.

Dunedin North or South? Boundary Politics

The New Zealand Electoral Commission has announced that the Dunedin South and North electorate boundaries are to be changed. Big deal you might say, how will this affect the Otago Peninsula? The proposal is to remove all of the Otago Peninsula from Ocean Grove to Taiaroa Head from Dunedin South electorate and add it to Dunedin North.

The NZ Electoral commission are required under the Electoral Act (1993) to use a complex population formula based on our previous flawed census of 2018 to ensure electorates are spread evenly by quota. In the case of Dunedin South the Otago Peninsula’s current electorate is “6.6% below quota and must gain population. Population of 12,200 is added from Clutha-Southland including Milton, Balclutha, Kaitangata and Lawrence. Dunedin South loses population of 8,000 from the Otago Peninsula to Dunedin North.” On the face of it that seems fair and reasonable, but if you look carefully at the report it says “Dunedin North is 5.8% below quota and must gain population. Population of 8,000 is added from Dunedin South including the Otago Peninsula. Dunedin North loses population of 2,500 to Waitaki including Palmerston, Hampden and Herbert, bringing the northern boundary to the Dunedin City Council boundary.” In a nutshell the Electoral Commission are “robbing Peter to Paul” to ensure the population quota is balanced.

What is deeply concerning about these proposed changes for the Otago Peninsula is that they pay no heed to our traditional cultural, strategic, economic or social connections with our area. In December I wrote to Electoral Commission asking that these changes not proceed. They will cut us off from the areas that are traditionally part of our community. These changes are contrary to the needs and current position of the Peninsula community and will disadvantage our area quite significantly.

The Otago Peninsula is a broad area of diverse communities running from Tomahawk to Taiaroa Head. Our region has always been traditionally recognised politically, economically and socially as a unique regional entity. As Dunedin city has developed and travel has changed, our community has become more reliant on the services, economy, recreation and social connections within the Dunedin South area. Peninsula intermediate and secondary school children all mainly attend schools within the Dunedin South area and this is too is a major part of the social connection our community has in this area. It seems completely counter-intuitive to move the people who shop, bank, undertake business, play sport and educate their children in the Dunedin South electorate to one that they have no connection too.

One part of the Peninsula community particularly at risk from these proposed electorate changes is the community of Tomahawk. Tucked between the beginning of South Dunedin and the southern end of the Otago Peninsula this community has fiercely fought electorate reform before so as to continue to be considered part of the Otago Peninsula Community Board area. These electorate changes will disenfranchise this community from effective representation by placing them in an electorate that has no connection to them geographically or socially.

As the Otago Peninsula Community Board Chairman, I oppose these proposed electorate changes most strongly. We rely heavily on the Dunedin South area as our natural link with Dunedin City and more importantly as a part of that community. Common-sense must prevail here, and rather than have lines drawn on maps in Wellington genuine representatives of the community must be listened to for the good of our community.

Remembering What’s Important

With the Christmas holiday period fast approaching, we tend to get drawn into the whirlpool of planning family gatherings, school break ups, shopping and overloading our fridges beyond their intended capacity. Worrying whether we should have ham or chicken and will grandma be all right sleeping on a camp stretcher in the spare room removes us from some of the real issues around this period. The holiday season can be a difficult time for some families and individuals. Financial, familial stress, loneliness and isolation are often exacerbated at this time of the year, as people come to terms with the holidays and all that goes with it. Christmas is a time for families and a time for giving, but it’s an opportunity to think about our wider community whanau and their needs. It’s about giving just a fraction of your time in this frantic time to others. Reaching out to people who live on their own, or neighbours you don’t see often helps to break down the isolation others may feel at Christmas. I encourage everyone on the Otago Peninsula to put down the tinsel and the lights for a moment and think about the people around you and how Christmas may look to them.

The recent eruption of White Island/Whakaari and the death and injuries to the cruise ship passengers and their guides was a terrible tragedy. The violence and suddenness of the eruption took the country by surprise and it’s hard not to feel great sympathy for everyone involved. A great deal of credit goes to the many people who have been brave and tireless in the care and welfare of the dead and injured. The cruise ship industry has become an economic staple of the Dunedin economy, with thousands of tourists visiting our city and the Otago Peninsula every year. How we care for tourists and keep them safe while they’re in our city, on our roads and visiting our attractions is something we must be very mindful of. It also brings up the continual quest by communities to ensure that we have the infrastructure and services to cope with the impacts of tourism. It’s a particularly pertinent time to consider those matters as we approach the hospital rebuild and 2020’s Council Annual Plan.

Finally, to all of the community, I wish you a safe and happy holiday period. Be good to one another, enjoy each other’s company and come back in 2020 refreshed and ready for the new year’s challenges.

(Printed in the Star December 2020)

Having Skin In the Game

The debate between the Otago Peninsula community and the Otago Regional Council over the provision of bus services for school commuters has been a long and arduous one. Recently, local parent Jason Graham and I presented a petition of nearly 1000 signatures seeking three very simple things;

  • A timetable change
  • An additional bus to create a half hourly service like the rest of the city
  • A minor route change that caters for all users.

Over the course of the bus argument the way in which the community has presented well researched, reasoned and pragmatic solutions has been difficult for the Regional Council to answer. Combine that with a sympathetic media and the campaign has been very effective. However, what has also been effective is the way the community removed the emotion from the debate. That has allowed a far more compelling and coherent argument to be presented. Whether that will be successful is now up for debate. The community has been united over this issue and has shown considerable resolve. I can only hope that it’s not in vain.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

The announcement of the review of the Dunedin City Council Book Bus service is a pertinent reminder to all Otago Peninsula residents of the importance of local services. The review should be treated as an opportunity by the community to consider modernising the services that the Book Bus can supply. These should include WiFi, online services and wider Council customer services. Submissions close on the 27th May 2017 and can be done online or on hard-copy from clicking the link here.

The book bus in the 1970’s was decorated by children from Portobello School.

Food for Thought

Hospital Protest

Photo Credit – Peter Yates

I recently attended the protest regarding the standard of food on a wet Friday afternoon outside of the Dunedin Hospital. I went because a lady from my Community Board area has been seriously ill in hospital and her family have been bringing in meals from home to help build up her strength. Her grandson plays rugby with my son so I’ve been hearing from the family about how her treatment and care has been going on the sidelines lately. To my surprise I saw her in a wheelchair wrapped in a blanket with her family at the protest. I couldn’t help but admire her for taking a stand despite the fact that she has been so dreadfully ill.

In an earlier post I wrote (The Community Compass) that one of the issues with the food problems at the hospital is that local people feel they have lost control of the decision-making process. There is a strong view in the community that the hospital is owned by the community for the community. However, In light of the removal of the SDHB Board by the current government this has become even more pronounced.

One of the biggest disappointments at Fridays protest was the absence of local City Councillors. This was not lost on the crowd who attended, especially when the Mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadbolt spoke. While its true that the City Council has no control over the management of healthcare in Dunedin, hospital services impact on the well-being of the city on social, economic and community levels. These impacts are also part of the governance and leadership role of the Council in its management of the city. Take for example the impact of employment in the city through the hospital and the flow on effects of that employment on our local economy. The importance of the hospital as a teaching facility for the Medical School is another area important to the city’s economy and its prestige as an educational leader both nationally and internationally. Finally, there is the desirability of Dunedin as a place to live, work and to do business in because we have quality healthcare facilities available. All of these factors impact on the Council’s ability to manage, promote and develop Dunedin at a range of levels. Its time that the Council understood that and acted.

In my opinion, the food issue is a symptom of a much greater problem in healthcare, especially in the way that services are provided in regional centres like Dunedin. Healthcare services transcend political affiliations. All of us at some time in our lives will have whanau, friends and neighbours who will need treatment and care. This returns us back to the fact that this is an issue of how local people have lost the ability to manage the services they require in their own community.