Kerikeri residents have what could be one last chance to secure access to a diverse and beautiful stretch of coastline, a petition organiser says.
Keri Molloy, a keen beachgoer and surfer, has lived in Kerikeri since 1985 and has watched with dismay as access to the coast had steadily disappeared.
Now she has launched an online petition calling on the Far North District Council and the Department of Conservation to establish road access to Taronui Bay. It has so far attracted more than 2500 signatures.
Taronui Bay has one of the few publicly accessible beaches in the northern Bay of Islands.
The catch is, it can only be reached by a 3.7km walk across farmland.
That was too far for a family to walk with chillybins or small children and a long way to lug a surfboard, Molloy said.
The farm road doubles as a DoC walkway and follows, for the most part, a strip of Crown-owned land.
View of the lagoon and beach at Taronui Bay. Photo / Keri Molloy
Creating vehicle access would not require an entirely new road but an upgrade of the existing farm track with a few deviations, passing bays and a car park at the end, before a bush track descends the last few hundred metres to the beach.
''The important thing about Taronui is that it's almost the last chance to gain official access to a really diverse strip of coastline,'' Molloy said.
Taronui includes a lagoon and a sandy beach ideal for children plus a rocky shore good for snorkelling. At low tide it was possible to walk to Tapuaetahi, the next beach to the east, while surf spot Elliot's Beach is a 20-minute rock-hop in the other direction.
At present the closest beach with road access and reliable surf is Taupō Bay, a 40-minute drive from Kerikeri.
When Molloy arrived in Northland more than 30 years ago, Tapuaetahi was regarded as ''Kerikeri's beach''. Now access is barred by a locked gate with a security code and residents enforced a parking ban for non-residents' vehicles.
Since then access to Elliot's Beach and Takou Bay had also been lost, though Takou Bay is expected to reopen, and the council had ''fallen down badly'' by allowing developers to shut the public out of almost the entire Purerua Peninsula.
''It should be a condition of consent of these flash developments to allow public access to the coast. We are more and more being shut out of our coastal lifestyle because of private ownership of coastal land.''
Molloy's campaign is not new. An earlier attempt in 2001 almost succeeded after a local contractor offered to upgrade the road for a heavily discounted $70,000.
The track to Taronui Bay would need a serious upgrade in places to make it suitable for cars. Photo / Keri Molloy
Local hapū Ngāti Rehia raised concerns about fishing and a wāhi tapu but they were resolvable, Molloy said.
An advisory group was set up and the council allocated $70,000, but around 2003 the money was diverted to other projects.
Since then Molloy's enquiries had ''gone around in circles'' with the council saying the ball was in DOC's court, and DOC saying it had established a walkway but the council needed to sort out the road.
A fresh quote had put the cost at just over $310,000.
''It sounds like a lot of money but when you see how much is spent on sporting facilities it's not a lot. The coast offers the most affordable recreational activity we have. We should be able to get to the sea.''
Martin Akroyd, DoC's acting Bay of Islands operations manager, said the department was aware of public concerns and was actively working through options and legal requirements.
''Any changes to the current situation would require extensive consultation with private landowners, stakeholders and iwi impacted,'' he said.
The council has also been asked for comment.
■ You can check out the petition here.