Tauranga commuters ruffling feathers

Commuters park their cars, en-masse, at Matapihi. Photo: Bruce Barnard

Time challenged Tauranga commuters have discovered an enterprising new way of beating the city’s peak time traffic snarls.

But at the same time, they may be intruding on the jealously-guarded rural tranquility of Matapihi and causing a level of ill-feeling.

One anxious commuter told The Weekend Sun she was always conscious it was someone else’s place.   “I am stepping into their backyard, and it seems they don’t like us being there,” she says.

Instead of tangling in traffic on Hewletts Road each morning, commuters have been driving down Matapihi Road from Bayfair, parking up at the end of the road and walking and cycling across the rail bridge.

“It’s a totally sensible alternative to driving into town,” one Papamoa commuter told The Weekend Sun. “Walking across the rail bridge takes about ten minutes. That compares to 40 minutes to an hour sitting in traffic on Hewletts Road, plus there’s no parking costs.” The commuter did not want to be identified and did not want to aggravate locals. Her concern was fueled by an anonymous and pointed note suggesting that commuters were no longer welcome.

The note, in part, stated that “the road carparks no longer exist” – effectively telling commuters they no longer had access to roadside parking.

The Matapihi Residents and Ratepayers Association took a conciliatory and calming approach to the problem. “I am not aware of the notes,” says the association’s Greg Milne, “but I am aware of the practice. There’s numerous cars – 20 to 30 a day – and it’s a trend which has increased in the last year.”

Are the commuters welcome? “It’s difficult to say,” says Greg, “but apparently not. You have the evidence to suggest they aren’t welcome, but it’s important to understand there has been no community discussion about it, so the answer is I don’t know.”

“The note pissed me off a bit,” the commuter told The Weekend Sun. “It’s a public road, and I can’t see why people can’t park on the side of the road.

“There is plenty of space, and it’s going to become more popular as word gets out and people get sick of peak-hour traffic jams.”

It could be a safety issue, or it could be that some people don’t like the intrusion. “It could be both,” says Greg. “There’s often cars on both sides of a small country road. We have had traffic issues out here before. It could be safety that has triggered the notes. But I don’t know. I am guessing.”
Matapihi is a special place, and has a very special feel. It is a quiet rural retreat - a sleepy backwater just a pipi shell’s throw from the hurly-burly of Tauranga’s CBD, but safely distanced by the harbour.

“That is exactly the feeling in Matapihi,” agrees Greg. “We want to keep it like that, and any threat to that is something taken seriously by locals.” People go to Matapihi, they don’t go through it. But they have started to.

“Now it’s a popular way to get to town and that’s a good thing,” he adds. “But it does bring more people through Mataphi. I guess they are issues that a growing town has – people are looking for alternatives and some people have found one.

“That impacts a little on us and our cool little corner of Tauranga that we are passionate about and want to preserve.”

One Matapihi resident cycling across the rail bridge told The Weekend Sun that locals were becoming increasingly “annoyed, angry and frustrated” with commuters. On at least one occasion, those feelings have boiled over. There has been confrontation.

The Papamoa commuter continues: “I had just parked up on the side of the road when a man told me to move because he couldn’t get into his property. I was nowhere near his driveway, but he was getting angry with people parking outside his property.

“It just feels quite hostile – it makes you very conscious of where and how you park. I make sure I say ‘good morning’ and ‘hi’ to the kids and drive at a safe speed. I am always conscious that this is someone’s backyard, but they just don’t like us being there.”

The rest of the anonymous note reads: “The connection of the southern pipeline has now been connected,” referring to the 1.6km-long, $99 million Southern Pipeline under the harbour and bisecting Matapihi.

“The local community consented to this area at the top of the hill having eight temporary carparks until the work finished. Over the 18 months that the work took to complete, the area became inundated with up to 50 cars per day during the working week.

“This has put a lot of pressure on a rural community that did not welcome the pipeline but saw the necessity. The time has come to transition back to normality. The road carparks no longer exist.”

But the commuters haven’t transitioned, and the roadside carparks still exist.

The commuter says for a few days after the note was left, there were no cars. “Everyone was freaked out about it,” she says. “My car was the only one and I was thinking ‘should I be worried?’.”

They shouldn’t be worried, but they should be sensitive to the lifestyle and feelings of locals. It’s their place, they love it and they care about it.