The months before Christmas are some of our loveliest of the year for their unexpected, lancing strokes of sunlight, landscapes still lightly rainwashed and the sea winter-clear and endlessly varied.
At the end of the first Covid year, it all seems especially precious and clean, not least because even usually jaded Aucklanders crowding the weekend streets have ready smiles and a willingness to be pleased.
All this astonishing beauty has come at a price paid willingly over decades by a community that has stewarded the island to its present abundance. It’s been a gritty road, often travelled in the face of the unremitting parsimonies of a distant – and dismissive – city council culture but, coming at the end of an unforgettable year, there is much being celebrated in this week’s Gulf News.
Waiheke Budgeting Service manager Amelia Lawley talks about the island’s heart-warming generosities that enabled the service to unstintingly help those most devastated by housing and financial pressures imposed by the pandemic lockdowns.
Former Auckland Regional Council chairman and city councillor Mike Lee enumerates the island’s years of punching-above-its-weight contribution to wholesome stewardship in the Gulf islands. It’s a catalogue of people getting important things done simply because they need to be done, often in the face of little official agreement.
We also report the successful and much-needed grassroots campaign to overturn a liquor licensing decision to allow a high-end bottle shop in Surfdale, talk to an influential and well-liked teacher with a legacy in the Nga Purapura Te Reo unit at Te Huruhi and wrap up the year’s events at the island’s three schools.
With the spectacular weather starting the summer season early, it’s looking good although, inevitably, some of the summer’s challenges will be hard to take and this social glue will be severely tested.
The loss of friends and families swept off the island by a tidal wave of market forces already has the power to unmoor us from our recent history. For new arrivals, high expectations of a finite island where the entry price is so high – and that even the council admits may not have had its fair share of civic spending due to its small population – have a habit of turning sour and resentful in the face of the realities of ferry queues, tangled planning and too many vehicles bumper-to-bumper on poorly designed roads.
This week’s council resource consent applications alone – predictably unleashed to pass unchallenged during the priorities of the summer break – presage the incessant roar of chainsaws in our hills as newly arrived owners open up views, bushwhack coastal slopes out to the boundary pegs and put down water bores to escape the disciplines of rainwater tanks.
The Waiheke Local Board’s 30-year Area Plan and its implications for Waiheke’s future is another worry, with officials and board members, according to the website, spending the holiday season working on a raft of planning projects which will determine how the island will look for the next three decades. After which the Area Plan for the island will be signed off by the board.
Developed by officials over two years and workshopped behind closed doors with chairperson Cath Handley’s Waiheke Local Board, the draft document (and its satellites, including the board’s own immediate plans and such seminal documents as the omnibus Reserve Management Plan) appeared in public for barely four weeks between the two Covid lockdowns.
In such a brief and confusing melee, a mere 250 public submissions addressed major issues faced by the island, providing anodyne “goals” but with the official article of faith that Waiheke planning will be folded into the Auckland Area Plan with no specific or measurable goals for preserving the unique character of Waiheke and its Hauraki Gulf waters.
The lack of proper process has been disturbing, but with the stars predicting great new possibilities after turbulence for January and February, there can be cause for optimism.
And in the meantime, Jupiter and Saturn are turning on a Christmas kiss, combining to usher in the sign of Aquarius. Atmospherics permitting, it will be visible from anywhere on Earth, low in the western sky on Monday 21 December for roughly an hour after sunset.
Appearing as one brilliant star and closer together than they have been since the middle ages, the two great planets in a “great conjunction” are probably more visible than at any since an earlier conjunction that coincided quite nearly with the “great star” of Bethlehem 2020 years ago. • Liz Waters