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Northland Open for Business

- 4th June 2020 -

#travel #lifestyle

By Shane Tepou

I met with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters at the Duke of Marlborough in the historic town of Kororareka (Russell), discussing Peter’s memories of his far North childhood and the challenges and opportunities facing the region in the post Covid-19 era.

What are your earliest memories of Northland?
I was brought up right on the beach in circumstances which people will have difficulty understanding today. My mother and father started their married life in a tent. I’m talking about a different age without the availability of electricity and all the things we have now – gas heaters and that sort of stuff. It was just hard. Funnily enough, when I look at some of my other relations who had better opportunities and more wealth, it wasn’t the best thing going for them.We nevertheless had a seriously rich lifestyle. With the water just about 40 metres away, the tide coming in and going out every day, all the activity on the beach, and milking cows when we were very, very young before we even got to Primary school. We were very lucky when you think about it. Big family – 11 kids, all alive today. The only people who have died in our family are mum and dad. Mum was 97 when she died. Strange to say, life without much, living on sound food, basic stuff instead of luxuries, has been very good for our family. I had a father who had to leave school in Standard Two. It was the equivalent time of Covid-19 – the Spanish Flu. People were dying in droves, with eight times more Maori as opposed to European families – a dramatic contrast to where we are now. He made a fist of it with a mother who was very committed to education.  

What were the lessons you drew from that?
Opportunity is a word that’s used a lot by economists and politicians, but opportunity requires someone to take the opportunity. The government’s job, and business, and planners and local bodies have a responsibility to make work available, but, that said, you’ve got to make sure you make the effort. I always say, ever since Eve gave Adam the apple and he ate it, we’ve been forced to work, and there’s no shortage of that now. The key thing is to work to live, not live to work. There’s a huge difference. It’s what we had available to use when we were growing up. We could not work to live, not live to work. On the farm, seven days a week mind you, but we had a thing we’ve got to get back in our society. It’s hope.

What’s the future like for Northland?
Northland’s got a chance now to be amongst the first provinces. It’s got everything that’s required. It’s got magnificent scenery, it’s got the climate, so much opportunity for infrastructure when it comes to making us more modern, and also we’ve got horticulture and aquaculture potential.

 We know that the port movement from Auckland is inevitable. All around the world, you’ve seen how they’ve moved out of the main cities, they’ve moved their ports, Auckland could be a magnificent waterfront, but you’ve got to start – and we should have started yesterday. Aucklanders are getting an appalling return, as an investment; it’s a shocking outcome. As I say, we’ve got dry dock and floating dock potential in Whangarei, the deepest water port in this country that’s usable with flat land availability, and Auckland cannot go one more metre out. It’s already encroaching on the Waitemata harbour. We’ve made it very clear we mean business on that matter – we require to be re-elected, but it’s our dream. The first thing we need to do is rebuild the railway and the tunnels, and we’re doing that right now up North. 

How about tourism, post-Covid?
Our focus should be added value tourism. Look up here. If you’re on a boat from Auckland, where can you stop on the coast in Northland? Tutukaka or the Duke. If you want to add value, places like this ought to be encouraged. This is the first licensed place in the whole country.I used to come to Waitangi when I was very young when I was a politician. I would come to Waitangi on the basis of respect for Waitangi, but the moment I saw there were protests I’d take my friends and family to the Duke and have lunch. At least to get something out of it. When your national day is befuddled, destroyed and confused by protests when they have 364 other days to do that, that used to make me wonder. But that’s not happening anymore. 

Tell me about your favourite meal?
It’s a bit difficult. I’m a simple food man, a bit like Rick Stein. I watch Rick Stein’s programmes because he turns ordinary meals on the face of it into something delicious. I really admire that. 

Do you enjoy cooking, Winston?
Yeah, I’d love to be doing more. During Covid-19 I did far more. Baking bread, thinking about different bread mixes. We’ve made delicious fish cakes – it’s all in the ingredients. If I was retired, I’d be doing a whole lot more fishing and doing a whole lot more cooking. I’ve got members of my family who are far better cooks than me, and I thought I might catch up. There was a time when I retired, I was going to work at a Chinese restaurant for free for a month, an Italian restaurant free for a month and a Thai restaurant for free for a month. All they’d need to do is let me help out and watch. Now it wouldn’t make me an expert, but it would be a good start. 

If I was bringing family and friends to Northland, where should I take them?
There are magnificent places to go to. If you’re looking for accommodation, it depends on availability. Depends if you’re coming by campervan, by camper bus, it’s all different, but there are tons of places that are fun to go to, on both coasts. Rugged, glorious scenery. One of the things we’ve been very keen on is to expand the number of law enforcement officers because if you want tourism and you want businesses, you’ve got to guarantee them security. That’s why we’ve got so many more police people riding up here because when the breakout comes and we make recovery, Northland will be a better place.