The splinters and fissures running through Waiheke have never seemed so desperately close to causing a devastating crack in our delicately poised community.
Sure, any family of nine or so thousand individuals is going to have its own pressures and squabbles, but 2021 seemed to push so many of those differences to the surface and let them rumble around in a neverending quake of row and counterclaim.
Some of the divisions have been reflections of national (and international) issues – chiefly around vaccination mandates and restrictions tied to the pandemic.
But others are more deep-rooted in our island community.
When Waiheke found itself singled out for exclusion from the Auckland-wide relaxation of Covid travel restrictions in early October it led to a loud and fractious argument between those who rely on tourism, retail and hospitality to keep the money coming in, and those who feared full ferries and holiday home-owners would bring sickness and even death to our doors.
Just a month earlier, a revealing report from Project Forever Waiheke titled Waiheke is a community not a commodity detailed precisely how these battle lines were drawn between those reliant on tourism and those who still see the island as a bolthole from the bustle of the mainland.
When around half (43 percent) of people had some engagement in providing tourism or hospitality services, but only eight percent of the remaining half saw any increased personal or household financial benefit from that tourism, then it’s easy to see how there would be little chance of a middle ground.
Soaring house and rental prices have also highlighted a genuine class divide on Waiheke too. (And before anyone gripes over the concept of New Zealand being a classless society, just spend an hour watching the flow of those visiting the rescued food community fridge and pantry at the Waiheke Sustainability Centre and tell me they’re enjoying the same benefits as those around the corner at some of the country’s top wineries.)
This past year, Waiheke has lost GPs, teachers, long-time stalwarts of the community, families and friends because they could no longer afford to live here.
In June, when demand for emergency food handouts on Waiheke hit an all-time high, Budgeting Services manager Amelia Lawley – someone who truly has her finger on the pulse of our rapidly changing island – said there were now low and middle income families who couldn’t afford to feed themselves. She described the situation with the alarming phrase that “Waiheke is being economically cleansed”.
The development of a marina at Kennedy Point has become a focal point of a fractured community. What started as a simple battle between those for and against the scheme in Pūtiki Bay has now become a mess of activism and industrial strength bullying tactics. It’s no secret that there are rifts even between those opposing the build and serious animosity between residents and visitors on either side of the divide and those who are working with the developers. The cracks in our society have spread to the skies above us and the waters surrounding us. There are factions who seemingly want a helipad for every mega mansion, subdivision or winery, while those who live on their flight paths clamour for a quieter lift. And, incredibly, there are still fights between those who seek different solutions to safeguarding the health of the Hauraki Gulf with 2022 poised for an interesting passage of the utterly laudable efforts of the Friends of Hauraki Gulf proposal for a Hakaimango-Matiatia marine reserve on the north-west tip of the island.
The Friends’ formal notification of the application has been pushed to 15 January and they “have comprehensively revised the draft application document, with amendments that address feedback from the ongoing pre-consultation process”. All indications are, though, that their vision of “no-take marine reserves” won’t pass easily into reality despite the precarious plight of Hauraki Gulf fisheries, seabirds and marine mammals.
At this time of the year, with a swollen population of pleasure-seeking day-trippers and holidaymakers, it’s easy to ignore the shifting tectonic plates beneath our feet as Waiheke’s society slowly rearranges itself to accommodate more wealth and short-termist delight.
But there is a community here that relies on the stability of those very same tectonic plates – there are schools, there are volunteer groups, there are sports clubs, health centres, art centres, a marae, families and individuals who rely on each other for childcare, compassion and friendship; there’s a pony club, swimming groups that go out even in a mid-winter chop, a dirt track, an RSA, walking groups, book clubs, recyclers, cyclists, commuters who stand in line for cold low-season ferries and then battle back through the high-season thongs; there’s two thriving community newspapers, a hatful of social media pages on which you can trade, whinge, share old photos or yell abuse at the local board; there are tradies, professionals, road-workers, shopkeepers, people who keep the flowers looking fresh in the middle of roundabouts, people who keep the rolls stocked in the public toilets, people who keep the tracks clear and the shelves stacked. There is, in short, a vital and intricately woven community. And without it, Waiheke would crack apart. • James Belfield