Auckland’s answer to Rotorua is being planned for a reserve north-west of the city. Plans have been drafted and it’s hoped they will help get the funding needed to bring the vision to life.   

After a wet winter the ambitious plans for a recreation reserve in Auckland’s north west seem far-fetched. Much of the 18 hectares of low-lying land in Parakai is sodden, the vegetation scrappy. It looks like a water-logged wasteland.

The new reserve management plan, still in a draft stage, will transform the scrub-land into a destination park with boardwalks, native vegetation and geo-thermal pools.

Areas will be set aside for families to play under shade. A quiet zone will focus on boardwalks through native plantings. Camping facilities will remain, as will the Parakai Springs hot pools. The pools will form part of an active zone, where they may be joined by other privately-run offerings.

The plans have been a long time coming. The future direction for the reserve was in limbo until a 2013 treaty settlement placed the reserve under a co-governance model.

Three members of local iwi – Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara – are joined by three Auckland council members. They form Te Poari o Kaipātiki ki Kaipara, the new board charged with managing the reserve.

The reserve joins one of a handful in New Zealand which are co-governed. Board chairperson, Margaret Kawharu, said the post treaty co-governance model forms the reserve’s character.

One of the first changes has been to change the reserve’s name from Parakai (a rearrangement of the name Kaipara) to Kaipātiki, the traditional name for the area.

Over time the reserve will include bi-lingual signage and will support Ngāti Whātua culture, reo, practices, stories and food gathering.

Currently under-utilised, this area close to the river may become part of the ‘quiet’ zone, with boardwalks and native plantings. Photo: Farah Hancock 

When the management plan becomes final in early November, the question of how to fund the new features will come to the fore.

“At the moment, we rely on funding from Auckland Council. We’re always conscious, even they have limited funds for this and many reserves,” said Kawharu.

Private enterprise will need to be involved to help pay for the enhancements to the reserve.

Currently there are no specific arrangements beyond the existing lease arrangement with Parakai Springs. Kawharu said they are looking at options that align with the vision.

Parakai Springs director, Gary Dunn, said the draft plan contains a lovely long-term vision.

Building on the current offering of the pools provide, however, will come down to money. Dunn said the privately-run company has been dreaming of improvements to make since 1995. To date all improvements have come out of cash-flow.

It’s about the dollars. How do you untangle the dollars and who has got the dollars? Those days will come. There’s little signs out there that we’re in the right industry, tourism is growing in New Zealand.”

Running commercial operations on lease-hold land poses a dilemma for investors said Dunn.

The question is, how long until we get returns? It’s not just coming flying into your hand.”

Traditionally the geo-thermal waters of Kaipātiki were considered healing. The draft management plan may encourage further developments like this landscaped pool in the function area of Parakai Springs. Photo: Farah Hancock

The current lease for the pools expires in 2026, however, the pools general manager, Dion Tilson, said they are working with the co-governance board to see whether a package to encourage investment could be put together. He said he believed long-term leases are the “norm” for attracting Asian investors.

Kawharu said the board would need to “weigh up the benefits” of overseas investment and any investment would need to be in line with the principles the reserve will be managed under. At this stage, longer leases are not being considered.

In general Dunn was comfortable with the plans which he sees are at the early stages of mixing commercial interests with cultural values.

“It was created with the Treaty, which is becoming a big part of how New Zealand’s society is going to be going.”

Some people he said, were still fixated on Parakai’s hey days in the 1920s when there were rose gardens, tennis courts and guesthouses.

“Society has moved ahead. In my head, there are possibilities but people have to get cooperative.”

Te Poari o Kaipātiki ki Kaipara expects to adopt the final management plan at its October 20th hui and the public release of the final reserve management plan is expected to be around November 1.

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