Initial plans to create safe access to Omanawa Falls have been presented to residents.
However, some locals are not happy with the proposals, suggesting they have not been listened to and the beauty spot is simply unsafe.
Omanawa Falls is closed to the general public for safety reasons. However, it has generated a reputation online for its picturesque location.
Unfortunately, the location can also be deadly, with two fatalities in the past three years related to visiting the falls.
A meeting at Omanawa Hall on Wednesday, June 16, was attended by around 50 people with representatives from Tauranga City Council, Ngati Hangarau, whose rohe the falls are located within, police and Tourism Bay of Plenty present to address concerns and answer questions.
“Together with Ngati Hangarau and Tourism Bay of Plenty we are working to provide managed physically and culturally safe access to the Omanawa Falls,” says Tauranga City Council director of spaces and places Paul Dunphy.
On their website, TCC state they have invested $978,945 on the project to date, and further funding of $3.5 million was allocated in the draft 2021-31 Long Term Plan.
“The Omanawa Falls project proposes to provide a track down to near the bottom of the waterfall,” Paul explains.
“This track will be safe but challenging, with a large number of stairs and a few ladders. On route there will be a couple of viewing platforms to provide views out over the falls.
“This track will be supported by the appropriate infrastructure, including an off-road car park and public toilets.”
However, Andrew Campbell, who lives in the area, suggests the plans put forward are not fit for purpose and residents are being ignored.
“I would say 98 per cent of the residents are very much against and not happy with what the council are proposing,” he says.
He suggests the area is simply not safe and should not be encouraged as a tourism hotspot.
“They talk about safe access, but really the public should not be going down there.
“Once Covid is over and New Zealand reopens to the rest of the world, there is no way you are going to control the amount of people going down there.
“That is what they think they are going to be able to do, but that is never going to happen in reality.”
Oscar Nathan, acting chief executive of Tourism Bay of Plenty, also insists that the area is currently unsafe and discourages people from visiting the site.
However, he believes the area is a potentially viable tourist destination once access issues have been addressed.
“Tourism BOP is committed to seeing the reopening of Omanawa Falls as the unique regional experience it is - but only when it is safe to do so,” says Oscar.
“Full consideration needs to be given to the historical, cultural and environmental significance of this special site.
“Accordingly, we will do our best to work with all the partners involved to ensure promotion only commences once it is safe to do so.”
Koro Nicholas, co-chair of the Ngati Hangarau Hapu Trust, was happy to hear of “awesome” ideas that were brought to the table at the hui but admits, on specific aspects of the project, some parties are polarised.
He says that from the hapu’s perspective safety is the biggest factor.
However, as well as making sure people come to no physical harm he insists the mauri, or lifeforce, of the area must also be protected.
“Every time someone injures themselves or dies down there it has a lingering effect.
“We don’t see safe access to those falls unless there is some sort of cultural element to go with the physical element.”
Tauranga City Council also remains committed to the potential tourism opportunities at the location.
“The project group will continue to explore tourism opportunities at the site and look into ways of managing access,” Paul says.
“We are planning to lodge for resource consent for this project in July.”
But Andrew, who helped put in steps and a platform that service maintenance work of Omanawa Falls Power Station, also highlights traffic issues, budgeting, construction time and ownership of the finished project as key issues which must be addressed before Omanawa Falls are turned into a viable tourist trap - something he believes should not happen.
“We are the ones that have to live down there and will have to deal with the ongoing problems that will occur,” he says.
“Believe me, there will be problems.”