Suspicious fire destroys cafe
Stunned residents huddled at the site of one of the largest fires in Hahei's history this morning.
Firefighters remained at the site following last night's two hour battle at The Cove restaurant which was completely destroyed in the blaze.
Amongst them was volunteer fire fighter Tim Stephens who leases the popular cafe with his partner Lauren Hailes.
"I was talking to a friend from England on Skype, about to meet his new baby, when the fire siren went off but I had no idea it was the cafe until I got to the station," he said.
Mr Stephens, 33, has worked at the cafe as a cook for five years but leased the restaurant from a local businessman in May this year.
"We spent the winter doing refurbishments, we were all set for a big summer season - I just can't believe it."
The Englishman hoped the owner of the cafe would be keen to rebuild as he said he loved New Zealand and the community of Hahei.
"It's such a great place to live, so beautiful and I really couldn't imagine being anywhere else."
Over the past five years Mr Stephens has worked for nine months at The Cove and spent the winter months working in Wanaka as a snowboard instructor.
Friends who had gathered to comfort him and his partner Lauren suggested a quick surf might take his mind of the charred remains of his cafe.
Amongst them were weary fire fighters who had battled the blaze throughout the night.
Hahei Chief Fire Officer Ian Carter said about 30 fire fighters from around the peninsula had fought the fire at it's height.
"It was certainly well ablaze when I arrived and there were a few difficulties like waiting for two LPG cylinders to burn out before we got too close - that did hamper our efforts," Mr Carter said.
He described it as one of the largest fires to face the area "in a very long time".
Fire safety officers are due to arrive at the scene this morning to determine the cause of the fire which is being treated as suspicious.