The region’s elected leaders were in a reflective mood when the Times-Age approached them to ask about their picks of the highlights – and lowlights – of 2023.
Mike Butterick, Wairarapa’s freshly minted MP, said one of the past year’s bright spots was the way that the community banded together to help those impacted by the two cyclones that ripped through – and ripped up – parts of this and other regions.
“It reinforces my view that provincial Wairarapa is a very special place,” he said.
Winning the Wairarapa electorate for National – “helped by a massive effort from a huge team” – was also up there for Butterick, while “having an opportunity to represent my electorate is very humbling”.
Sports also loomed large in the MP’s 2023 highlights reel, including the Black Ferns’ success on the international rugby field, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the All Black’s “almost success” at the Rugby World Cup, and “finally having Wings Over Wairarapa held, despite all the challenges” and how this – along with other successful events – “put Wairarapa firmly on the destination map”.
On a personal note, Butterick will “remember 2023 for having all four of our children back under one roof for the first time in six years”.
South Wairarapa District Council Mayor Martin Connelly had many memorable moments to mention, including his district being designated a Dark Sky Reserve [“the culmination of many years of work by the Wairarapa Dark Sky Association”], the opening of the cycle suspension bridge over the Tauwharenīkau River and the pou [statue] in Featherston that marks the start of the cycle trail to Greytown [“a remarkable piece of public art”], along with the success of events such as the Martinborough Fair, Booktown, and the mid-winter Festival of Christmas in attracting thousands of visitors to the region.
And while Cyclone Gabrielle was very much an unwelcome visitor to the area, causing “a considerable amount of damage and disruption to many people’s lives and livelihoods”, one upside of the extreme weather event for Connelly is “it showed that when we have a regional disaster, all three councils can work together swiftly and efficiently to take care of people”.
For Masterton District Council Mayor Gary Caffell’s part, “the resilience and positivity shown by our coastal communities after the ravages of Cyclone Gabrielle” was the most memorable aspect of the past year, “along with the support given to them by the wider community in a recovery process which is still continuing to this day.”
Caffell also praised the speed with which the council’s roading team responded to the extreme weather event, and was “pleased to have arrived at an acceptable short-term solution for the sewage hassles experienced by some residences on the east side of town, rapt we have made real progress in plans for a new town hall and an upgrade of the library, and delighted to welcome many new residents into our district through the refugee resettlement programme”.
Having just attended the funeral of long-time Carterton resident and “helluva character” Ross Black two days before, Carterton District Council Mayor Ron Mark’s mind was very much on the downside of the march of time.
“It saddens me how many – too many – great people have left us during 2023,” he said.
And while Mark counted himself chuffed to have seen legendary Carterton swimming coach Russell Geange receive a richly deserved Queen’s Service Medal in the New Year Honours, those stalwart contributors to the community who remain unsung were also preying on his mind, as was how few new people are stepping up “to pick up the slack” as the veteran volunteers inevitably bow out.
“It’s a bit of a bittersweet time,” Mark said, “when you reflect on the many staunch members of the community whom we’ve lost over the past year.”
In tomorrow’s edition, the region’s elected leaders point to the opportunities and challenges they believe 2024 will bring for Wairarapa.