Thursday, July 15 2004

Third World roads beyond a council solution

Wairere Boulders - a growing tourist attraction but a possible Far North job- and money-spinner that is unlikely to reach anything like its potential unless the roading network is improved beyond all recognition according to owners Felix and Rita Schaad.

Felix and Rita Schaad have what they and many others regard as a world-class tourist attraction on their property at Horeke. There are those who say that Wairere Boulders, a unique formation which the couple didn’t even know was there until slips began exposing it, could one day rival Uluru (formerly known as Ayer’s Rock).
Mr and Mrs Schaad share that optimism, but in their case it is qualified. Right at this moment they are losing potential customers hand over fist thanks to a Third World roading standard which they say is now beyond the means of the Far North District Council to tackle in any meaningful way. 
“Camper vans and a lot of rental cars are not allowed to use unsealed roads, and Taheke Road is not fit for tour coaches,” Mr Schaad said.
“Many people who might come and see what we have here will never arrive, even if it is only the prospect of driving over such a terrible road that puts them off, but this problem is not unique to Wairere Boulders. It exists all over the Far North District.”
The district council, he said, was responsible for 2,510 kilometres of road, only 29 percent of which was currently sealed (compared with the national average of 60 percent). Just catching up with the rest of the country would mean sealing another 775 kilometres, and at the current rate that would take between 35 and 70 years to achieve, by which time the rest of the country would have moved on too and the Far North would be as far behind as ever.
Mr Schaad estimated that, at a cost of $250,000 per kilometre, plus bridging the Hokianga Harbour (“which seems vital for the recovery of this poverty-stricken part of New Zealand,”) the job required a capital injection of around $240 million.
The district council, with annual rates revenue of $27 million, couldn’t hope to raise the local share needed for an upgrade on that scale. With government funding the council could seal 24 kilometres a year, and without it just 12 kilometres.
The only way out, he said, was a major injection of government money.