“Some of the best views in New Zealand accessible by car,” says Bruno Chambers, chairman of the Te Mata Trust Board.

Is there anyone in Hawke’s Bay who has not occasionally driven, walked, cycled or even run to the top of Te Mata Peak? Is there anyone who hasn’t recommended a trip to the top to a visitor? Probably not.

And then there are the lucky locals who enjoy the trails, flora and fauna and vistas of the 98 hectare Te Mata Park on a regular basis. The Park, gifted in 1927 to the people of Hawke’s Bay by John, Bernard and Mason Chambers, is protected for all time through a charitable trust structure and QEII National Trust covenant.

As Bruno sees it, the very popularity of the Park, and especially the mandatory trip to the top, has now created both exciting possibilities to “enhance the experience of those currently using and visiting Te Mata Park”, as well as challenges to address practical difficulties associated with the site’s growing traffic.

The solution: a $2.7 million Visitor Centre for the Park, plans for which were unveiled Thursday night. The 435 square metre building will be situated adjacent to the present main gates into the Park, offering a terrific viewing platform looking across the Bay, but having minimal impact on the site. The natural gradient of the land will be preserved, and landscaping featuring native plantings will envelop the site.

The Centre has been designed by Wellington architect Christopher Kelly of Architecture Workshop. Eighteen firms (eight local) were invited to indicate interest; from sixteen responders, four were short-listed for full proposals, with Kelly the ultimate choice of the Board’s selection panel. He designed the new Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre, which opened in June 2010.

To enrich the visiting experience, the Centre will feature impressive educational exhibits and facilities. These will provide information on the geological history of the Park and environs, the Maori and Pakeha history of the area, and flora and fauna existing within the Park. Information will be offered on the Park itself and its walking and mountain bike tracks.

And to complete the package, the Centre will include a café, viewing platform, gift shop and toilet facilities. Parking for up to 45 cars and 8-9 buses will be provided.

Which brings us to the practical challenges the Peak faces.

The sheer number of visitors making the drive to the top of the Peak has become difficult to manage … particularly at ‘peak’ season, when tour buses add to congestion on the access road and in the upper parking areas.

The Council over February counted more than 2.300 cars making the trip in an average  week (and a peak day of 415 cars) … plus buses! The Trust’s own counting yields about 2.8 passengers per car. That’s a heap of people over the course of a year, even assuming numbers decline in colder weather.

The Trust Board plans to deal with this congestion – and the dangers associated – by implementing a shuttle bus service to the Peak from the Visitor Centre to those in cars, and banning large tour bus access beyond the Centre. For bus tours, the trip to the top presently involves a relatively brief 15-20 minute stay, so ‘adding a stop’ to the visit may discourage some bus tours.

How and when?
Asked when he’d like to see the first shovel in the ground, Chambers quipped: “Tomorrow!” But the reality is that official Council approvals and fundraising will push that date to the May 2012 range. If all goes to plan, and building commences at that point, Bruno says that the Park might be able to open the Centre by Christmas 2012.

To get going, the Te Mata Trust Board will file its resource consent application in May. With the full public notification, submission, hearing (and appeal process, if needed), final approval might take as long as a year.

Meantime, the Board will undertake fundraising for the $2.7 million project, a chore that has already begun. It should be noted that the Hastings Council and Regional Councils have contributed $100,000 and $50,000, respectively – matched by $50,000 from the Trust – to bring the project to the building stage.

Funding will be sought from the area Councils (HDC has earmarked $250K in its draft Annual Plan), a range of gaming and community trusts, as well as the public (including corporates). And that process will most likely consume the next twelve months.

Bruno is hopeful that the community will respond enthusiastically to the proposal. “Te Mata Park enjoys the support of many, many people throughout the Bay. Lots of us have grown up running all over Te Mata. And so many of us use and benefit from the Park over and over. I hope people will like our design, appreciate the logistical problems we’re trying to resolve, and even open their own wallets in a modest way when asked to donate to the project.”

He notes that the Park, probably the most visited attraction in Hawke’s Bay, has been available to the community and our visitors at virtually no cost since it was established. “The ratepayers of Hawke’s Bay have been getting the best deal imaginable,” says Chambers.

Peak House, initially generated an ongoing stream of funding for the Park, but this has been insufficient in recent years with associated costs of Peak House eating into the lease proceeds. Peak House will be removed as part of the plan … the location becoming a picnic area.

Today, an annual contribution from the Regional Council of $25,000 supports a part-time caretaker, and HDC has come up with the funds for specific projects, mostly carparking and roading improvements. Bruno emphasizes, volunteers have contributed thousands of hours per year to improving the Park.

The Trust Board hopes that the Centre, once operating, will provide the funding needed for ongoing Park maintenance and enhancement.

To BayBuzz that sounds like pretty terrific value for money!

As Mayor Yule said at the unveiling event for the project on Thursday night, “We the people of Hawke’s Bay haven’t done justice to the Park. It’s time for us to give back. Hopefully the money can be raised within nine months to a year, and we can get on with building the Centre.”

If you would like to contribute to the Te Mata Peak Visitor Centre Project, you can contact Bruno Chambers at brianchambers@clear.net.nz

Tom Belford

P.S. More images of the proposed design will be posted soon on the Te Mata website: www.tematapark.co.nz.

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1 Comment

  1. What a good idea to have the Centre part way up. The Peak as been disfigured enough already.

    What's the bet the next suggestion will be a gondola service?

    I win … how about a gondola service instead of a bus service? If it went straight up from the proposed visitor centre it could be quite a dramatic ride … quiet, low energy footprint once established … and arguably safer.

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