Wairoa – How New Zealand used to be, or perhaps not

Nuhaka

The amazing and scary Nuhaka rail bridge, and in the foreground its less frightening road bridge neighbour, over the Mohaka River south of Wairoa. Picture by Peter Scott, who also took the one above of Wairoa. The aerodrome is just beneath his wing…

Wairoa (population about 8400) is the gateway to the magical Lake Waikaremoana, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and its surrounding pristine forests of Urewera National Park. There, trampers may encounter heavily armed Children of the Mist from the Tuhoe tribe peering at them from dark places in the bush. Wairoa is also the starting point for ventures to the Mahia Peninsula and the wonderful hot springs of Morere. Wairoa is the Maori name for “long water”, which may refer to the brown and turgid Wairoa River flowing through the town and lending a unique charm to its main street of small shops and pioneer buildings.

This information is of no use to the flying visitor (unless you have friends in the area) because there are no taxis in Wairoa, and no car hire. There are no rail connections. Up the line, the link to Gisborne has been washed away, and somebody burned down the Wairoa railway station long ago. The rail link has been mothballed by KiwiRail, making New Zealand the world’s largest consumer of mothballs and endangering rare native moths all the way from Napier to the East Coast.

Wairoa boasts that it’s “New Zealand like it used to be” and in some respects it really is how like New Zealand used to be before we built railways. Perhaps “used to be” is not the most positive message to convey, but rest assured that the ghost of Sir Robert Muldoon does not stalk the streets, and rusty secondhand cars cost exactly the same as they do in Napier. Supermarket liquor prices in Wairoa, on the other hand, always remain dramatically ahead of the times.

Just up the road to the magical lake, you’ll find Frasertown, which is inhabited (some say, controlled) by the gang that rivals the other gang that some say controls Wairoa. Sadly, the entire area is blighted by the curse of Mongrel Mob and Black Power gangsters; and that’s not New Zealand like it used to be…

Wings over Wairoa – and big ones, too. Sunderland fly-past in 1969

Wairoa was once a veritable hive of flying activity. There was talk of establishing an aerodrome there as early as 1932 (although progress was rudely interrupted by World War 2 and things didn’t really get started until 1948). During the ensuing years, Wairoa’s been the scene of a few quite large aviation events, but today the aero club is all-but-inactive, the clubhouse is deserted and the trophies gather dust. Legally, the club exists. It owns a Storm microlight.

Wairoa District Council maintains an excellent sealed runway, along with a sign demanding a $15 landing fee. Microlighters, fear not, for your landings cost nothing – so pay no attention to the sign.

Although transport options are virtually non-existent, any slight disturbance caused by aircraft approaching Wairoa may result in the arrival of entire families to view your aircraft. They might even give you a lift into town, where you can stroll down Wairoa’s pretty riverside main street and savour Ostler’s award-winning pies.

After that, it’s a long walk back to the field, folks.

Contacts: John Trafford at Cafe 287 on State Highway 2, 06 838 6601, or airfield enquiries to 06 838 7309 (Wairoa District Council)

Landing fee: None

Taxi: None listed

Visitor information: Wairoa i-Site.

Wairoa air pageant 1969

When Wairoa was really humming: the air pageant of 1969

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