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Year in Review: November 2023

The Times-Age reported on solar farm developments in the region, the successful hosting of Wings Over Wairarapa despite the wet weather, and how the Royal New Zealand Air Force was called in to execute a daring rescue in the Tararua Forest Park.

November 2

Raymond Ratima, a mass murderer who killed seven people, has taken the New Zealand Parole Board to court, raising the possibility of bias after being denied release from prison 14 times. Ratima, 55, was jailed for life in 1992 after being found guilty of killing seven people, including three of his own children, on a murderous rampage in Masterton. Ratima appeared via audio-video link in the High Court at Christchurch yesterday, seeking a review of the Parole Board’s decision to not grant him parole.

November 3

Wairarapa’s first solar farm was only a few months away from starting construction, with the project set to be completed by the middle of 2024. The development is destined for Norfolk Rd on half of a 12-hectare lifestyle farm site and will generate enough electricity to power up to 1500 local houses. Backing the project is Light Years Solar, a New Zealand-owned and operated company that, according to its website, works with landowners interested in renewable energy.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered across Wairarapa on Wednesday night for the annual Foodbank Drive. Many residents happily donated to the cause, with a few commenting about how much their local food bank had helped them.

November 4

A diver off South Wairarapa’s coast has come face to face with the ocean’s largest predatory fish, but the encounter fortunately only resulted in a fright rather than significant injuries. Mid-afternoon on Thursday, Ngawi Sports Fishing Club sent out an alert that a commercial pāua diver had come across a great white shark while in the water in front of the seal colony at Kupe Sail east of Ngawi. The club reported that the diver “is all good but has had a huge scare”. Department of Conservation [DOC] technical marine advisor Clinton Duffy told the Times-Age the agency understood a diver was attacked by a great white shark in Palliser Bay and sustained only minor injuries.

The army made an urgent house call in Masterton after a resident discovered a Mills bomb [a type of grenade] in their garden. The resident was digging in their garden when they discovered the device and promptly took a photo to the Masterton Police Station. Police then contacted the explosive ordnance disposal [EOD] team of the New Zealand Defence Force [NZDF]. A NZDF spokesperson confirmed that an EOD team responded to a request for assistance and identified the item as an “inert Mills bomb [grenade].”

November 7

The Featherston branch of South Wairarapa Veterinary Services [SWVS] informed its customers that it was closing its doors for good in 10 days’ time, after telling them in September that the closure wouldn’t happen until April next year. The surprise announcement in September said both SWVS’s Featherston and Martinborough clinics would remain open until its new Greytown clinic was up and running in April 2024, and cited a workforce that was “stretched too thinly” to provide “the consistent hours and high-quality service that we want to deliver in South Wairarapa.”

A South Wairarapa sheep and beef farm was snapped up by an overseas forestry company, the first such sale under a new threshold that requires a higher “benefit to New Zealand”. In its October decision, the Overseas Investment Office [OIO] said the United Kingdom-owned NZ Forestry Partnership intends to convert the land for forestry activities by planting approximately 193ha of pine trees.

November 8

A Belvedere Rd resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he woke up at about 3.30am on Sunday morning to “an explosion”. “I had woken up earlier, yet again to the noise of burnouts in the car park,” he said. “Eventually, I hopped back into bed, and 15 minutes later woke to a loud noise so went outside to see what it was.” The resident and his partner were greeted by the sight of a car engulfed in flames.

November 9

Crews from five fire brigades across the region were called to a “well-involved” blaze at the Martinborough transfer station in the early hours of the morning. The potential culprit? A lithium battery. Tankers from Upper Hutt Rural, Carterton, and Masterton were called to the scene, with two crews from Martinborough and one from Featherston also in attendance. Martinborough’s chief fire officer Jake Hawkins said the brigade was initially alerted to the blaze by a neighbour, and by the time they arrived, it was “well-involved”. The call came through at 12.55am and the on-scene crews didn’t leave until well after 6am.

Shortly after 8pm, a car crashed through the front bedroom of a house on Villa St after ploughing through the front fence, yard, and veranda – clipping a streetlight pole on the way. One resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said the sound of the impact was so loud that it “sounded like it was in my lounge; it was a horrible noise”. When the resident went outside to check what was happening, they could only describe the scene as “utter chaos”. A police spokesperson confirmed that at about 8.20 pm, a car drove into a house in Masterton. After the crash, the driver of the vehicle became agitated and upset, resulting in police restraining her.

November 10

Residents of a Featherston property had a rude awakening in the early hours of the morning when a vehicle ploughed through their fence. Police confirmed a 36-year-old male driver had been travelling down Watt St in an orange ute at about 1am when he lost control on the corner that leads into Fox St, causing him to crash through the property’s front fence.

November 14

Poor visibility due to the plumes of smoke billowing from a complex by the Waingawa River reduced motorists’ speed on the stretch of road to a crawl while crews from multiple fire stations battled a blaze after the Masterton fire crew escalated the job to a second alarm. Crews from Carterton and Greytown – including a tanker and a rural crew – answered the call, according to a Fire and Emergency [Fenz] spokesperson. It had initially been a controlled vegetation fire that had been burning for a number of days but had gotten out of hand after it had been picked up and fanned by high winds. At the height of the inferno, fire crews were focused on extinguishing the flames while also protecting any exposed structures, the Fenz spokesperson said.

Three ambulances were called to the scene of a crash, and rescue helicopters were temporarily engaged, at about 9.30pm after a minivan rolled on SH2 north of Mt Bruce. Wellington Free Ambulance confirmed the deployment of three ambulances to treat seven patients on the scene. Three were in moderate condition, while four sustained minor injuries. Only three of the party had to be transported to Wairarapa Hospital’s Emergency Department for further treatment, while the rest were treated on the scene.

November 15

The Royal New Zealand Air Force was called in to execute a daring rescue in the Tararua Forest Park that involved two stranded trampers being “winched off a ridgeline above waterfalls”. The pair of hikers unexpectedly had to spend Sunday night on the mountain after they were forced off the track and overwhelmed by extreme wind conditions and poor weather during what was scheduled to be a multi-day hike in the Tararua Range.

November 18

A 46-year-old local man briefly appeared before Masterton District Court, charged with multiple firearms and drug-related offences. The man was charged with the possession of three centrefire rifles, Winchester .410-gauge slug bullets, and Hornady .270 calibre bullets, as well as the cultivation of cannabis, and the possession of equipment used in the cultivation of cannabis.

November 21

A suspicious house fire on Kiriwhakapapa Rd in Masterton was investigated by police after a Fire and Emergency [Fenz] specialist investigations team concluded their examination of the scene and filed their report yesterday. A police spokesperson confirmed that the fire has been coded as “arson”, an investigation is underway, and the fire will continue to be treated as “suspicious”.

November 23

South Wairarapa District Council has voted to establish a Māori ward in the district. The motion passed with seven votes for and three against at a council meeting in Martinborough yesterday. The public gallery was full ahead of the decision, and the positive vote was celebrated with applause, while some attendees hugged one another.

A man who showed great remorse in Masterton District Court yesterday received a heavily discounted sentence for assaulting his partner while she held their child. Cullam Brooks appeared in Masterton District Court yesterday, having pleaded guilty to assaulting with intent to injure, impeding breathing, two counts of assault with intent to injure, and two counts of contravening a protection order. Judge Barbara Morris sentenced Brooks to home detention for eight months, subject to detention conditions.

November 24

Motorists were forced to veer off the marked road as parts of SH2 southbound toward Clareville started “disintegrating.” Drivers reported that the road had “melted” and that “bits of road surface, some the size of dinner plates, were being thrown up in the air.” Police received a small number of reports regarding the tar seal “coming up off the road on State Highway 2,” a spokesperson confirmed.

November 25

A driver who crashed on Bidwills Cutting Rd is lucky to be alive after being hauled out of the passenger door mere minutes before her van erupted in flames. Emergency services responded to a call for assistance at around 11.30am after a car had veered off the road and subsequently caught on fire. Police confirmed it was a single-vehicle crash, and a spokesperson said one person was reported to have sustained serious injuries.

Heavy downpours failed to dampen the spirits of thousands of students attending the Take Flight programme on the first day of the three-day Wings Over Wairarapa Air Festival at the Hood Aerodrome yesterday. While two schools had to pull the pin on attending due to the wet weather conditions, Wings Over Wairarapa chair Ron Mark told the Times-Age there were still 4500 students getting among the event’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programme.

November 26

Though it didn’t quite go off without a hitch, Wings Over Wairarapa was labelled a roaring success after the wet weather threatened to postpone the entire biannual event for a second time. Wings chairman Ron Mark was impressed with the day and displays seen yesterday, considering the questionable weather at the start of the day. “It’s ended up beautiful,” he said, noting that by mid-afternoon, the sun was shining, and the skies were blue.

November 28

A solo hiker activated their PLB near Mt Neil shortly before 7pm after getting lost on their multi-day hike. Bad weather conditions on Thursday night meant the search was paused until first light when the hiker was found and rescued with the help of a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter.

November 30

Tensions ran high between police and some members of the public at the scene of a crash in Martinborough that left one person in a critical but stable condition at Wellington Hospital. Associates or family members of one of the drivers involved were at the scene and interfered with ambulance officers and police, resulting in their removal by police – including one arrest. The crash on the corner of Oxford and Regent Streets was reported to emergency services at about 7am. A police serious crash unit was on the scene investigating the cause of the crash, but initial findings are that a ute failed to give way on Oxford St, crashing into a people mover travelling on Regent St.

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