If Auckland’s constipated traffic is starting to unravel your mental equilibrium, you might consider moving to the Coromandel where, at the Whitianga Waterways, an altogether more relaxed and serene pace of life awaits, writes Lawrence Schaffler.
For the uninitiated, Whitianga Waterways (WW) is a custom-designed, lifestyle refuge in the heart of the Coromandel. A couple of hour’s drive from Auckland, it’s a residential development for the boat owner who likes being able to step on to his pride-and-joy from his front lawn.
The WW’s dominant feature is its attractive network of canals, around which the homes are built. This means many – but not all – of the homes have water frontage, complete with an exclusive, walk-on jetty able to accommodate vessels of up to 30m LOA.
While road bridges provide easy access into and around the ‘village’, residents often use the canals to visit neighbours or nearby shops/amenities, in small power boats or kayaks. It’s a bit like Venice – sadly without the serenading gondoliers – but mercifully free of the suffocating tourists.
A major appeal of the venue is the easy and immediate access to the Coromandel’s fabled cruising and fishing playground. There are scores of nearby anchorages – and many would argue the area is home to New Zealand’s finest beaches. Depending on your vessel’s ability and the enthusiasm of your throttle hand, the jewel-like Mercury and Aldermen Islands are only 20-30 minutes away.
WW is the second in a trio of water-themed developments masterminded by Leigh Hopper – managing director of Orewa’s
Hopper Developments – over the last three decades. The other two are Pauanui Waterways (also in the Coromandel) and
Northland’s Marsden Cove, near Whangarei.
Some 25 years in the planning (resource consents were approved in 1999), WW is a ‘phased construction’ project, with new segments of the 220-hectare development coming on stream as residential sites are sold. Sites in the latest stages went on sale early this month.
Around 250 homes have already been built at WW. When complete, that will increase to 1,500. Each is built on a site
about 700m2 in size.
WHO LIVES HERE?
Interesting question – and the answer’s wrapped up in an evolving social dynamic.
When WW sites first became available in 2002, says Hopper, there was a 50-50 split in the profile of the buyers.
“Half were people wanting to build the conventional holiday bach – the others elected to build and move here permanently.
Today, about 80 percent of the buyers choose to live here permanently.
“Our research suggests many people are ready to leave urban areas in a desire for a better lifestyle and also a surprising number of professionals are happy to live and work here thanks to good broadband.
“With a higher proportion of permanent residents, there’s now a distinct ‘village-like’ feel about the complex, and because the area is relatively flat, biking has become very popular with residents.”
Supporting evidence of the migration from the cities and the expanding local population, he points out, is the growing roll at the local Mercury Bay School (it now has more than 1,000 students) and the establishment of two new supermarkets in Whitianga itself.
Perhaps the best example of the developing ‘vibe’ at the Waterways is the recent acquisition of an aluminium
catamaran which is to be transformed into a mobile restaurant/bar. It will offer the residents sunset cruises around the canals – all viewed through the bottom of a glass of pinot noir.
The WW project also needed a better access channel from the sea, allowing deeper-draught vessels into the yet-to-be-created canals. Dredging the 1.2km access channel moved some 120,000m3 of sand.
These components are now historic footnotes in the overall project – and with the recent release of the new stages, 90 new sites are available. Additional phases will come on stream over the next decade.
WW hosts a number of bridges, inter-connecting various parts of the canal network and providing roadaccess to the greater Coromandel and state highway. They are also an important consideration – particularly for yacht owners – considering a move here.
Not all sites have ‘clear’ access – bridges obviously impede a yacht’s rig – but many sites do offer unrestricted movement. Launch owners have more choice. Maximum clearance under the bridges is 4m at high tide – it’s more at low tide. And the maximum depth in the canal network at low tide is 2m. Larger launches with imposing superstructures would have to join the yacht fraternity.
A striking feature of the third phase development is the creation of Endeavour Island. Surrounded entirely by a canal, it has one access road/bridge onto the island.
The WW project, says Hopper, will be supported by a range of amenities – some existing, some which are yet to be built.
“We are working on a design for a waterfront hotel with 100-plus rooms, as well as a waterfront retail centre. The retail zone
will have a café, Waterways Sales Office and other stores – as well as an extensive jetty. Owners will be able to visit it by car or boat.”
Also included in the plan is a large marina development, complete with a travel lift, slip (big enough to accommodate
catamarans) and a hard stand for boat maintenance.
For trailer boat owners, canal-frontage sites are not really an issue, given that the WW site is equipped with a number of boat ramps and beaches. They make it easy to launch a boat and leave it nudging the beach while the trailer is returned to the home. But for owners who find that process too onerous, the marina development will also include a dry-stack.
With the completion of Stage 10, about 90 new sites have just become available. Thirty of these are canal-front properties, the remainder are set back from the water. Depending on size and location, the canal-frontage sites sell for between $630,000 and $1.2 million. Non-frontage sites are priced at between $280,000 and $400,000.
Again, depending on size, annual council rates are about $3,500. There is also an annual $1,200 body corporate levy to
cover maintenance of the canals, navigation lights, revetments and the boat ramps scattered around the development.
WW is a bold development – both in vision and execution. It’s attractive because of its location, the nearby amenities, the
tranquility and the diversity. Intriguingly, no two homes are the same – there is enormous scope for individuality.
But perhaps the last word should go to the birds. In an age when urban development often compromises the local ecology, it’s refreshing to see the proliferation of birdlife – revelling in the new aquatic habitat.
CONSTRUCTING THE CANALS
Curving elegantly around Whitianga Waterways, the canals are precision-carved from the raw land. Linked to the open sea
via the access channel, their water level rises and falls with the tide. At dead-low-tide the depth is 2m.
Aesthetics aside, though, the canal network is also a fascinating engineering achievement. Because the overall development is a phased project, constructed as sites are sold and services laid, the canal network itself is excavated in stages – one section at a time.
The just-completed third phase, for example, has not only flooded a new section of canal, but in so doing has also created – for the first time – an island at the centre of the development. Endeavour Island is accessed via a bridge.
HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Building a continuous canal in separate sections comes down to the use of strategically-placed ‘bunds’. A bund is a bit like the wall of an earth dam, a Dutch dyke or an American levee. It holds back the water while, on the other side, below water level, the new section of canal is excavated.
When the excavation is complete, seawater is siphoned from the existing canal to the other side of the bund. And when the new canal is nearly full, the construction team gradually removes small sections of the bund (at high tide) to complete the flooding process. As the water levels on either side approach parity, excavators remove the remnants of the bund.
Some 180,000m3 of sand has so far been excavated from the canals. By the time the entire development is complete, an
estimated 500,000m3 will have been excavated. Most of the sand is placed on the land alongside the canals, effectively raising the level of the building sites well above the reach of even the most enthusiastic of king tides.
Boat speed along the canals is restricted to three knots to protect not only the moored boats but also the jetties and canal
walls. Swimmers also appreciate the lower boat speeds.
The Whitianga Waterways is the second residential canal project the Hopper team has tackled in the last three decades. The others are the Pauanui Waterways – also in the Coromandel – and Northland’s Marsden Cove, near Whangarei.
Pauanui Waterways is a 325-lot development launched in 1993. It was New Zealand’s first residential canal development
and 25 years later, few sections are left.
Located within the mouth of the Whangarei Harbour, the Marsden Cove project will eventually comprise 1,000 sites/homes. It also includes a 230-berth marina. The Marina haulout development is nearing completion.
Construction of Anchorage Village – a 200-unit waterfront retirement village – has just begun. Among its facilities are a
swimming pool, bowling green and a medical centre.