Man with a dream

VISIONARY: John Baker, the man behind Matakana Country Park.
VISIONARY: John Baker, the man behind Matakana Country Park.

A dream sparked inside John Baker while walking through the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island.

Something about the atmosphere at the 100-year-old gardens that attracts a million visitors annually stuck in Mr Baker's mind.

That was the birthplace and template of Matakana Country Park.

Mr Baker was farming at Christian Bay on the Tawharanui Peninsula at the time and visited the 22-hectare gardens with a friend. He was looking for a site where he could create a similar destination when he found one on the corner of Leigh Rd and Takatu Rd near Omaha and began turning it into reality in 2003.

Matakana Country Park now houses The Stables restaurant, The Speckled Hen Cafe, Country Park Market, equestrian facilities and a tack shop, the Military Arts Club and confidence course, a gym with 350 members, a craft co-operative, Art Matakana Gallery and St Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

And the vision doesn't end there.

"I was once asked what makes a entrepreneur. I'd say it is someone who has great dreams, but they don't stop. They make it happen.

"I'm blessed with the people that help. It's like a village here. Everyone just turns up and does their thing. The community support is amazing."

Mr Baker already has an area he would like to turn into a vintage car display, with enough financial backing to start tomorrow. But things always take longer than expected.

Mr Baker says around three years ago he decided it would be best to be open with the council about his plans.

"We have plans for at least the next 10 years and I put 11 ideas before the Auckland Council. They say we can only do two of them," Mr Baker says.

Some of the ideas include a kindergarten, swimming pool, memorial garden, small cheese factory, and a vet clinic.

Visitor accommodation for up to 100 guests is on the wishlist.

"There is a huge demand in the area for accommodation," Mr Baker says.

"We decided to hold a public meeting to see if the community would be happy. And so many agreed with the ideas."

Out of the 113 residents who came to the meeting, less than a handful oppose developing the park.

"With the speed we are going I don't think I will see all these things happen in my lifetime," Mr Baker says.

About 27 people have fulltime jobs at the park and another 20 will be needed if an area zone change is approved by council.

Mr Baker, along with lawyers and supporters, stated support for a Proposed Plan Change 148, seeking a Matakana Village Sustainable Development Plan, at a hearing before commissioners on December 13 at the council's Orewa Service Centre.

A new Matakana Country Park zone is sought, along with a clear list of suitable activities for the site. The commission is expected to release its decision early next year.

Events have become an important part of the park, with approval to host 12 a year.

The site has a growing reputation and has hosted events including Highlife NYE and Bloom Festival. Some big acts including Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo, Bachman & Turner and America are coming in the new year.

"We have heaps of space for parking and other facilities. With events we go for quality not quantity," Mr Baker says.

"The events create income for local businesses and generally we have very good support from the majority."

Rodney Times