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Year In Review: December 2023

The Times-Age reported on a drowning off Riversdale Beach, a road fatality after a tractor and a motorcyclist crashed on Te Whiti Rd, an early Christmas present for Wellington Free Ambulance in the form of a $1 million donation from Sir Peter Jackson and Dame Fran Walsh, and four Wairarapa people included in the 2024 New Year Honours list.

December 1

Masterton District Council staff are “fed-up” with ongoing plant thefts from Queen Elizabeth Park – and should it continue, stolen greenery may no longer be replaced. Over the past month, 28 lavender plants were stolen from the park’s Hosking Garden, which is designed to be a drought-resistant, aromatic space through its chosen species. During Wednesday night, 12 plants were taken from the garden at the Pownall Gates, yet another lavender from the Hosking Garden, and 20 plants from the sloping garden nearby. A council spokesperson said the inner area in the garden, which features herbs, had also been “devastated”.

December 2

A rāhui was in place for five days along Wairarapa’s coastline following the death of a diver. The person reportedly went diving on Thursday afternoon and failed to return. Their body was discovered early Friday morning. A police spokesperson confirmed that a man had been located deceased after going snorkelling off the coast of Riversdale Beach.

December 5

In a move that could mean less discharge of treated wastewater into waterways, Carterton District Council [CDC] agreed to buy 85 hectares of land next to its new wastewater reservoirs at Daleton Farm. The sale and purchase agreement is expected to be finalised in March, when CDC will consult with the public on options for the site and the possible impact on rates.

December 6

A crowd of several hundred people, many dressed in red, white, and black, marched down central Masterton streets yesterday morning as part of a call by Te Pāti Māori to protest policies of the National, Act, and New Zealand First coalition that it has branded as “an assault on tangata whenua and Te Tiriti o Waitangi”. The hīkoi in Masterton was one in a series of protests across the country planned to coincide with the day on which new and returning MPs swore allegiance to the Crown as they took their seats in the new Parliament.

Phillip Hall appeared in court to be sentenced on three counts of burglary, one of receiving property over $1000, and one of driving with a suspended license. Hall was sentenced to two and a half months of community detention and 18 months of supervision subject to sentence conditions. He was also ordered to pay $4500 in reparations.

December 7

A young man who defrauded multiple people of more than $45,000 with fake gardening schemes and car purchases has avoided prison but must pay back the majority of what he owes. 22-year-old Shane Sutton, pleaded guilty to a stack of charges for obtaining by deception [three for an amount under $500, one for an amount between $500 and $1000 and 12 for an amount over $1000], and one charge of failing to answer bail. Sutton was sentenced to three and a half months of home detention.

December 9

One person died after a crash between a motorcyclist and a tractor on Masterton’s Te Whiti Rd, near Lees Pakaraka Rd. Due to the crash, Te Whiti Rd was closed from multiple entry points near Te Kopi, Manaia, and Lees Pakaraka Rds. Police were stationed at each roadblock, redirecting traffic away from the scene.

Several hundred people, including more than 140 school children, turned out for the blessing of the Featherston playground that now bears author Joy Cowley’s name. The blessing on Friday morning included an emotional speech from Cowley. It was also something of a farewell for the celebrated children’s author, who will soon leave the town she has called home for the past 20 years. “My heart is full. I don’t have words big enough to tell you how I feel,” Cowley told the crowd.

December 14

South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has created a new committee structure, which some councillors say will save time and lead to more effective governance. The new structure – called a ‘committee of the whole’ – will manage some, but not all, council business. SWDC deputy-mayor Melissa Sadler-Futter was elected to chair the committee of the whole at an extraordinary council meeting on December 7. A local government expert says the new structure effectively creates “a council within a council”. Regular council meetings will continue to take place, chaired by the district’s mayor, Martin Connelly, fulfilling legislative requirements.

Some train services on the Wairarapa Line were forced to travel at reduced speeds due to heat restrictions, causing delays for travellers. However, on the upside, upgrades to the line between Upper Hutt and Masterton have reduced additional journey time due to heat restrictions from 16 minutes in 2021 to 3.5 minutes as of October this year, according to KiwiRail chief planning officer David Gordon.

December 15

A logging truck that rolled at the Norfolk Road roundabout near Waingawa at around 4.30pm blocked the southbound lane of SH2 for more than an hour. According to police, the driver of the truck “sustained minor injuries”, and “enquiries are ongoing to determine the circumstances of the crash”.

St Matthew’s Collegiate completed an unbeaten Gillette Venus Cup tournament with a commanding 82-run win over Christchurch Girls’ High School to be crowned national secondary schoolgirl champions.

December 16

Christmas has arrived early for the team at Wellington Free Ambulance [WFA], who are reeling in delight after receiving a $1 million donation from Sir Peter Jackson and Dame Fran Walsh. The generous windfall will contribute to the construction of Wairarapa Station, the new purpose-built WFA ambulance station that is set to open in Masterton.

Following years of debate and protest, Masterton District Council [MDC] decided which options for the facilities to replace Masterton’s earthquake-prone town hall will be put forward for public consultation next year. The decision was made at MDC’s last meeting of the year. The options considered for the town hall were: [1] Demolish the existing town hall and municipal building [minimum option]. [2] Demolish the existing town hall, refurbish the municipal building, and build a new town hall/ performance space on the same site. [3] Demolish the existing town hall and municipal building, build a new town hall/performance space on the same site, and expand Waiata House to meet the municipal building’s function. Meanwhile, the options the council considered for the library/archive were: [1] Do nothing [minimum option]; [2] Undertake basic improvements; [3] Upgrade and expand the library [including Wairarapa Archive].

December 18

In a public-excluded section of its final meeting for the year, Masterton District Council voted to participate in the government’s Future of Severely Affected Land [Fosal] voluntary buyout programme for properties severely impacted by the North Island weather events at the start of this year. The decision made relates to the fate of nine Tīnui properties that were badly damaged in the serious flooding that the small community 30 minutes east of Masterton experienced during Cyclone Gabrielle in February.

December 19

A total of 45 new cases of covid-19 were reported in Wairarapa in the past week [to December 18], Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand data showed, bringing the region’s running tally of cases to 24,801 since the pandemic began in 2020. The seven-day rolling average on December 17 was six cases. While these numbers were relatively low compared to early 2022, when daily reported cases were in their hundreds, wastewater surveillance in the region indicated the actual number of active cases was far higher.

Emergency services responded to a single-vehicle collision on Masterton Castlepoint Rd at about 12.20pm yesterday. A police spokesperson confirmed that as a result of the crash, a scrub fire in the adjacent bushes [pictured] needed to be extinguished by Fire and Emergency [Fenz]. The driver had minor injuries. A spokesperson confirmed a Wellington Free Ambulance team was dispatched before being stood down because they were not required. The road was blocked for a short time while Fenz extinguished the scrub fire.

On the same day that the new government announced an independent review of Kāinga Ora, the Crown housing agency managed to pull off a Christmas surprise with the unveiling of the region’s latest tranche of 11 state houses in Masterton, ready earlier than anticipated.

December 20

Wairarapa’s councils were pumping the brakes on implementing new, lower speed limits in response to Minister of Transport Simeon Brown’s announcement there would be changes to speed limit rules as part of the new government’s “commitment to stop blanket speed limit reductions”.

December 21

The latest addition to an ever-expanding list of renewable energy developments eyeing the region was a 147-hectare solar farm that – if approved – would border SH2 south of Masterton. The proposal was led by New Zealand Clean Energy [NZCE], a developer that installs and manages long-term utility-scale renewable energy projects. NZCE identified a site in Waingawa for the development that was selected for its proximity to a grid connection, high levels of solar irradiation, and land quality. The development would contain 166,000 solar panels on 138 hectares of the site and would generate enough electricity to supply an estimated 35,000 homes.

An investigation into suspected criminal activity at Rimutaka Prison has resulted in six people being charged. The six defendants appeared in Hutt Valley District Court. It is alleged that corrections staff were bribed with sex and money to take contraband into Rimutaka Prison.

A pair of kārearea [native falcon] chicks have had a lucky escape from a logging operation in Erindale Forest near Castlepoint. Logging contractors were working in the forest recently when they were “swooped” by two adult falcons, Forest Enterprises harvest manager Tom Otterson said. Realising something was amiss, a digger operator took a closer look and found a nest with two chicks among a stand of trees earmarked to be felled. “He was supposed to be felling all those trees but, obviously, once he found them we pulled the pin,” Otterson said. The chicks will be left to mature, and felling will not restart until they have left the nest, he said.

December 22

The Times-Age received reports that the road surface on State Highway 2 between Masterton and Carterton was “melting”. Times-Age attended the scene and observed that strips of the road surface on a long stretch of the southbound lane of SH2 appeared to be melting bitumen. This latest apparent SH2 setback followed “emergency surface repairs” being made on the northbound stretch of SH2 between Chester Rd and Norfolk Rd earlier that week.

December 23

Due to water restrictions being in place and the fact it’s been haemorrhaging tens of thousands of litres of water a day, Masterton District Council “regretfully” instructed Trust House Recreation Centre contractor Belgravia Leisure to close the outdoor dive pool “for the foreseeable future”. Recent investigations identified the dive pool infrastructure as the cause of increased water loss from the recreation centre’s outdoor pools network

December 26

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre celebrated a Christmas surprise with the hatching of a kiwi chick to mother Manawa [who continues to tend to a sibling egg] and father Mapuna.

December 27

A Crash on the same deceptively treacherous corner of Masterton Castlepoint Rd at around 12.30pm, was the scene of three crashes just over a week ago. The crash happened about two kilometres from Castlepoint, with the vehicle – which had been travelling with another car – rolling and going over a bank after smashing through a fence. One patient was transported to Masterton in a serious condition, a Wellington Free Ambulance spokesperson confirmed. According to Castlepoint Rural Fire Force’s Anders Crofoot, who attended the incident, speed appeared to have been a factor.

December 28

Traffic restrictions remain in place on Riddiford Bridge on Te Awaiti Rd near Tora after concerning cracks in the supporting piers were identified before Christmas. The cracks were discovered during a visual inspection on December 12, prompting South Wairarapa District Council to impose restrictions on December 13 that limited its use to vehicles weighing 3500kg or less, travelling at a speed of no more than 10kmh. A secondary report on December 14 endorsed these restrictions as “appropriate and reasonable”.

December 29

Although Boxing Day spending was down slightly nationwide compared to 2022, businesses in Wairarapa went against the trend and enjoyed a buying bump that was second only to Otago. A total of $98.3 million was spent on ‘core retail’ [excluding hospitality] around New Zealand on December 26, with Wairarapa racking up $800,000, according to data from the electronic payment network Worldline NZ.

Police are investigating a car fire on Bidwills Cutting Rd, following a spate of cars having been found burnt out across the region in recent months. Volunteer firefighters from Greytown were called to the scene of the car fire at about 1.30am yesterday. Chief Fire Officer Seth Rance said the vehicle was “well alight” upon their arrival at the scene. Two trucks and an operational support vehicle attended the blaze, and it took two full tank loads of water to extinguish the fire due to the alloy material of the car.

One woman was arrested after failing to stop for police at about 11pm. A Police spokesperson confirmed that the woman failed to stop after officers attempted to pull her over for excessive speed. After a short pursuit, the woman stopped and proceeded to assault a police officer. The woman was arrested shortly after midnight and was remanded in custody.

December 30

The 2024 New Year Honours were announced, and among the dozens of New Zealanders who were recognised for significant achievements and serving their community were four Wairarapa stalwarts: Russell Geange [Queen’s Service Medal], Trevor Hawkins [Queen’s Service Medal], Jane Sinclair [New Zealand Order of Merit], and Dr Simon Snook [Order of Merit].

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