Punakaiki residents frustrated over infrastructure upgrades

Residents in the West Coast town of Punakaiki – home to the Pancake Rocks – have been left frustrated by delays over improvements to vital infrastructure.

The previous government had planned to upgrade carparking, toilets and access ways last year, but that was put on hold after the new government introduced its own master plan proposal in February.

More than 500,000 people visit Punakaiki every year – and while the tourist revenue is welcome, it is also causing problems in the town.

Punakaiki Beach Camp owner Craig Findlay said the town has fewer than 100 residents, but it was being overrun by tourists, including some freedom campers.

“A typical summer for us is 25,000-plus visitors staying with us – that’s only a small percentage of the half-a-million [tourists who visit the town yearly].”

Mr Findlay said the community was frustrated, as the town had one public toilet block and limited car parks.

He said successive governments had let the town down.

“We had been promised by National for significant improvements to infrastructure, and now the change of government with Labour – [it] has gone into a phase of master planning. I don’t know if we’ll have anything on the ground this summer coming.”

Further down State Highway 6, Hydrangea Cottages owner Neil Mouat said the town was quiet for half the year, before it boomed over summer.

He said it was important changes were made so they could serve more tourists year round.

“If you trade [in Punakaiki] – six months of the year you make no money. Almost all your money has to be made within five months, and most of it within three months.”

Tourism West Coast has set a target of 1.1 million visitors by 2021, which will mean the town and the region will need more financial investment.

Mr Mouat said with limited infrastructure, tourists should be made aware that there were toilets in other nearby towns.

“Tourists are only 35 minutes from Greymouth and 50 minutes from Westport. It’s not the Australian outback.”

Buller District Council projects manager Glenn Irving said there was no quick fix to the problems the town was facing.

However, he said they were working on a freedom camping solution.

“Unfortunately, some of the challenges that exist in Punakaiki aren’t ones that are going to be solved in a couple of months.

“I do know that the [Buller District Council] is looking at quite a few solutions to the freedom camping issues that exist down there during the summer months, so that’s something that we can tackle in the short-term.”

Mr Irving said they were putting a proposal – another step in the master plan process – together for investors to look at.

“The plan is to produce a business case to put to future funders for some of the things that need to be done. The plan is to have this part of the project finished by the end of September.”

Local businesses are going to have to make do for the meantime, but remain hopeful relief is coming in the form of the Punakaiki master plan.

The master plan is set to be developed and implemented from next year onwards.

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