A breath of fresh air at the seaside

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 04/01/2014
whitianga summer
Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ

FUN AT WHITIANGA: Jo and Erwin van Maanen and their children – Josh, 3, and Alex, 7 – say they love how family-oriented Whitianga has become.

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While the reasons why might be open to debate, the Coromandel Peninsula is reclaiming its status as a family-friendly holiday region.

Currently, summertime troubles in Whitianga are way down on previous years when, coincidentally, the town played host to the Coro Gold music festival.

Locals and regular holidaymakers alike have hailed the lack of drunken youngsters as a breath of fresh air.

Families with young children in tow are thronging the main shopping centre, in Albert St, and Buffalo Beach, without having to jostle for space with hordes of unruly teenagers.

It is a similar situation at Waihi Beach and at Whangamata, the scene of occasional drunken riots previously.

Bottles were thrown at police at the surf club as 2003 ended when 1000 youths became unruly, and police arrested 155 aggressive, drunken revellers as 2010 dawned.

The lack of hassles this season has made Senior Sergeant Graham Shields, who is heading the policing team based at Whitianga over the peak summer period, a happy man.

"The number of arrests is hugely down on last year," he said.

"There are a number of reasons for that and a big one is the change in legislation that allows us to give out instant fines for breaches of the liquor ban, rather than making arrests.

"We gave out 70 of those, for the whole Mercury Bay policing area, which goes from Hot Water Beach up to Kuaotunu.

"Last year that would have equated to 70 arrests.

"Last year we made 270 arrests and most of those were for breaches of the liquor ban - so even without the new legislation the number of liquor breaches is well down this summer.

"There have been a couple of assaults in Whitianga - a couple of people who let themselves get out of control.

"But you can expect that amount of that sort of trouble anywhere, on any night of the year."

Whether the major factor in that reduction was the absence of Coro Gold - on hiatus this year - was hard to tell, he said.

"Obviously without Coro Gold there has been a reduction in the number of 18 to 24-year-olds coming to Whitianga.

"But there has never been a Coro Gold in Whangamata and the numbers of that age group are well down in that town as well.

"There is a very positive vibe in terms of families in Whitianga this year.

"And fair enough. Everyone wants to go on holiday and let the kids go down to the beach without fear of some drunken lout accosting them there.

"I think it is because people are finally starting to get the message on alcohol.

"People are finally starting to grow up in their attitudes towards drinking.

"They are taking more responsibility for their own behaviour.

"Licensees are realising they have to be responsible and the Thames Coromandel District Council came through on deciding their local area plan to restrict the availability of alcohol . . . all those factors combined have made it a great holiday on the whole."

Holidaymaker Erwin van Maanen said he loved how family-oriented Whitianga had become.

"We have just bought a permanent caravan site in one of the campgrounds here. There is always something going on, and even if it is wet you can go and do something. They have a really good cinema here now."

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While he liked the environment, he felt sorry for the teenagers who had been left without a major event to occupy their time.

"They are not hooligans," Mr van Maanen said.

"They are just young people out looking for a good time."

Thames-Coromandel Mayor Glenn Leach said it appeared people were being "much more ruly" throughout the Coromandel, although the income of some businesses might be down because of Coro Gold's absence.

"The food and drink outlets might be taking a hit. It's a difficult one to quantify . . . personally I would much rather the Coromandel became known for outdoor pursuits and a place for families to come, rather than a two to three-day concert.

"At the end of the day the younger people are a segment of our society and they need to be catered for too . . . although from an economic development perspective it might be better to get an extra 200 to 300 families into the town, rather than a heap of teenagers."

Ann Brien, who has owned and operated the Whangamata Motor Camp for 20 years, said that over the past four years there had been a growing trend of less and less young people coming to the town.

"They are gradually dwindling away. I think they are going to the likes of Rhythm and Vines in Gisborne or other places where the events are."

Although there had been much drunken buffoonery some years, she had never experienced any first hand.

"We only book in families anyway."

A similar approach was taken by Mercury Bay Holiday Park owner Craig Stratford, who has experienced trouble in the past. "We had to get security out the front to keep the drunk young ones out. I do think the concert drove a lot of families away.

"I have nothing against it, but it would be better being held here at another time of the year - not New Year's."

Mercury Bay events promoter Fiona Kettlewell said Coro Gold attracted "a different crowd" to the town - although that was not necessarily a bad thing.

"This year has been a lot better for families. The change in the type of people has not hurt Whitianga at all."

Nikki Young, who helps run the Banana Boats attraction on Whitianga's Buffalo Beach said it was traditional for the younger crowd to stay just one or two days around New Year's Eve.

"There's always a second wave of families who come, just after New Year's, after all the crazy drunk people go home.

"I think a lot of people did not know the concert was not on this year, which is why the town has seemed a bit emptier these past few days."

Rex Knight, the sub area commander for the Hauraki-Piako police district, said behaviour had been excellent in Waihi and Waihi Beach.

"We have made just nine arrests since Boxing Day. There has been about 56 infringements of the liquor ban but, apart from that, it's been great." 

- Waikato Times

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