Town loses key ingredient

Hahei residents are devastated after fire destroyed a popular restaurant in the small Coromandel community.

For local fire chief Ian Carter the fire at The Cove Kitchen and Bar was particularly harrowing.

"My parents brought that restaurant into Hahei," he told The Waikato Times.

Early yesterday Mr Carter remained at the scene where residents had gathered to support one another.

"The enormity of this fire would be like Thames losing the mall - it's going to have a significant impact on a small community like ours because it means a loss of jobs and the loss of a popular eating place for tourists going into our busiest time of year."

After a detailed scene examination yesterday, fire safety officer Ross Fleet decided the fire was caused by a mechanical fault in a clothes dryer.

"It was being used to dry the towels from the day's business at the rear of the store, therefore the cause was accidental," he said.

The restaurant has been in the town since 1978 when Mr Carter's parents, Dawn and Vaughan Harsant, bought it from the Meadow Court Motel in Papatoetoe.

Mrs Harsant, 89, who has lived in Hahei for more than 50 years, said the restaurant was initially known as The Grange.

"It was real gamble. We brought it down on a truck and it stayed on drums till we got a permit. The council could not understand why we would want to put a restaurant in the town," she said.

"It was something just for Hahei that everyone could use - somewhere people could gather for a cup of tea."

Mrs Harsant was disappointed to hear of Monday night's fire but hoped it would mean the start of something new.

"It's not the end of the world. That used to be a paddock for dogs and chooks and we put that restaurant there."

Firefighters fought the fire for more than two hours on Monday night.

Among them was volunteer firefighter Tim Stephens, who leased the 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, an Englishman, had worked at the cafe as a cook for five years but leased the restaurant from Colin Ellison in May.

"We spent the winter doing refurbishments, we were all set for a big summer season - I just can't believe it."

Mr Stephens hoped Mr Ellison 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."

Mr Carter said about 30 firefighters from around the peninsula had fought the fire at its peak.

"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.

Waikato Times