Protestors gather at Matiatia wharf for speeches before the double-decker bus arrived. Photo Rob Brennan

Things went according to plan last Sunday for protesters opposing Fullers’ double-decker buses on the island.

Over 100 people gathered at Matiatia around 11am on a fine autumn day to hear short speeches from organisers Susi Newborn and Stephanie Honeychurch. They emphasised to the crowd the need to follow traffic marshalls’ instructions and behave moderately during the slow walk up to Oneroa.

Follow-on speakers included Christine Gisby, Claude Lewenz, Paul Walden, Colin Beardon, Sue Pawley, Chris Hoff-Nielson and Huhana Davis. Mr Lewenz spoke about the difference between tourists and visitors, a theme he had expounded in a letter to the editor of Gulf News on 23 March 2017.

Mr Hoff-Nielson, who operates an e-cycle hire business on the island, talked about the adverse effects the Fullers/Explorer one-ticket tour package from downtown Auckland has on other tour and accommodation operators by scooping up the lion’s share of tourists for a quick tour of the island.

When the scheduled 11.30am double-decker bus failed to arrive at Matiatia, earlier  concerns that the Explorer service would be suspended briefly to avoid the protest seemed well founded. But then at 11.45am one of the brightly coloured behemoths coasted down to the key-hole park at the wharf.

This was the signal for objectors to cross the road and line up in front of it. A pre-rehearsed haka was, as a fitting challenge,  performed back from the roundabout, no doubt to the bemusement of just-boarded passengers. Banners fluttered, placards were waved and rhyming chants filled the air.

There then followed a slow, deliberate and vocal walk up the hill to Oneroa with the bus crawling along behind. A follow-on Explorer bus coming the other way gave double opportunity for the procession of protestors to make their feelings known.

At one point a column of two double-decker buses and a large white tour bus snaked along behind the group until, at the Owhanake car park, they turned back to Matiatia and passengers either consolidated onto one double-decker or chose to get out and walk.

Well over an hour elapsed between the walking troupe leaving Matiatia and their passage past Morra Hall on the outskirts of Oneroa. At the pedestrian crossing in central Oneroa, the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover was re-enacted a number of times. At the roundabout opposite the Red Cross building, the marchers called time on the protest after a further haka and a little street theatre.

Two exasperated, just-arrived Canadian tourists got off the slow coach and expressed their displeasure to Ms Newborn about their first impressions of the island and the distinct lack of a warm welcome. Spontaneously, she offered to provide them with a personal tour of the island which they accepted.

“I took them on a three-hour tour, from 2 to 5pm and we ended up the best of friends”, she said. “At the end they said to me ‘we really get the feeling you are a community that loves this place’.”

Ms Newborn said they had tried to inform passengers of the impending slow journey but had been prevented by the driver from boarding the bus or distributing pamphlets outlining the reasons for the protest.

It was suggested by more than one person that Sir Brian Souter, the owner of Fuller’s parent company, was on the lead double-decker bus, sitting in the upper front seat wearing a cloth cap. Fullers’ CEO, Mr Doug Hudson, told Gulf News that this was definitely not the case.

So where to from here? Ms Newborn is encouraged to continue the campaign by the high level of support. About 1800 people, almost one in four of the island’s adult resident population, signed the petition opposing the new Explorer service.
“Doug Hudson emailed to say he would like to have a chat with us,” Ms Newborn said. “We will, and we will look for a win-win solution”.  Rob Brennan

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