Wellington Scoop

Moa Point – why it’s a special place

moa point

by Dr Sea Rotmann
After a recent DomPost article that asserted Wellington Airport is ‘gifting’ Moa Point residents with $10,000 out of the goodness of their heart, some ugly attacks were made. I’d like to set the record straight about what it means to be a Moa Pointer and live in the smallest suburb in Wellington.

We are neither nimbys nor whingers, and yes, we knew the airport and sewerage plant were there when we bought our houses (kinda hard to miss!). But we are a special lot, because we live in this special place and call it our home, our tūrangawaewae, and we are its guardians and fiercely protective of it.

Moa Point is a heritage suburb, it consists of a very special reservation – the Hua te Taka peninsula – and a street of 21 residences. We’ve been around for a very long time, almost as long as Wellington exists. Around the corner, in Tarakena Bay, are three of the oldest pa sites in Wellington. Until the early 90s, raw sewage was pumped out straight into this beautiful bay – giving it the ugly moniker ‘Poo Point’.

We are a hardy lot, we have to be, living in this environment. We have the sewerage plant with its special ‘aroma’ wafting around during certain winds and we have the airport, with its noise and its bully tactics, like removing our easy access route to Miramar and threatening to destroy our bay and homes for what seems to be no more than short-sighted greed. And we bear the brunt of Wellington’s infamous winds, both Northerlies and Southerlies, staring straight down the barrel when a Southerly blast or surge comes at us from Antarctica.

moa point sunset

But we also boast the best sunset spot in town, with a straight view to the snowy Kaikouras over the turquoise Cook Strait. We harbour a tiny gravel beach, with wonderful snorkelling, fishing and kayaking spots, which is never over-run in summer. We showcase a huge abundance of wildflowers, including 69 indigenous and 33 naturalised plant species. We have one of the few Little Blue Penguin nesting sites in Wellington and can hear them call during calm, cold nights. We regularly have seals, purpoises, dolphins and the occasional Orca and Southern Right Whale come to visit. We even have a species of algae that can only be found on this stretch of the coast, and in Otago Harbour. And we have a giant kelp forest harbouring a huge abundance of species – by the way, the same species that made the Taputeranga Marine Reserve special enough to be declared a reserve.

This is a special place, Wellington’s taonga and an integral part of the South Coast and Lyall Bay. Living here means being connected to nature and your environment, you get to know the wind, the tides, the sun and moonsets and rises and the changing of the seasons intimately. This is so very special when living less than 20 minutes from a Capital City. We are good neighbours, many of us close friends but also leaving each other be, always supporting each other when needed. We seem to have a disproportionate abundance of scientists, lawyers, business owners, government officials, both working and retired, and greenies in this suburb. The people who live here, its guardians, have usually lived here for a very long time. When we went around the table during a neighbours’ meeting, we found that we lived here for an average of 17 years, with the longest resident being here for over 33 years. Compare that with the 83% of the private rental market that have a tenure of 4 years or less. We’re here to stay.

Unless the airport of course destroys this special suburb with its extension plans. Not only will it ruin this magical spot, its penguin habitat and our little bay, it will also impact along the wider South Coast, the Lyall Bay surf break, the marine reserve, the sewerage operations and cause transport bottlenecks, both during construction and operation. Just think that there will be 120 trucks an hour for 30 months minimum going through all of Wellington with clean fill! And all this for – if we’re lucky, as no airline said they want to fly here long-haul – only one extra flight a day with an extra 110 visitors coming in. The airport says this will bring $140m to Wellington each year (extrapolating wildly, as usual) – not mentioning that it costs $160m a year just to maintain the extra planes!

It’s not just us residents who are questioning the dubious business case of this extension, the airport itself says it’s not economical, the National Government is certainly skeptical, and even the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are starting to call for a business case and certain long-haul airline commitment first before committing any more of their rate- and taxpayer monies to this project.

It is important to note that the assertion by the airport in the Dom Post that it will release a business case in two weeks, is disingenuous. They will release a cost-benefit analysis, which is a small sub-part of a proper business case (under Treasury’s Better Business Case Framework) and the impact studies the ratepayers paid for for the resource consent. These have very little to do with a proper business case. It is also important to note that not going through the fast-tracked board of inquiry process is an admission that they know they would fail. Going through the more protracted Environment Court hearings has nothing to do with a ‘more open and transparent process’ and everything with buying themselves time and bleeding the opponents dry due to the high costs associated with fighting a project like this through the Court. It also means many more years of this existential threat hanging over our heads, which is stressful in many ways – emotionally, financially and physically.

The airport has never been a good neighbour, not to us and not to the other 700+ houses affected in its ‘Noise Precinct’. The city and eastern suburbs had numerous stoushes with it, over the death of Bridge Street, the outrage over the dumb ‘Wellywood’ sign, the loss of public access to Stuart Duff Drive etc. A runway extension has been opposed to as long as the airport has existed. They have recently, after much public pressure, done better in their consultation of ‘affected’ groups (which seems to largely amount to bribing them, including us, although we did get access to the confidential draft reports for the resource consent early, for which we are grateful).

On the one hand, you could say we are lucky having an airport so central to the city. On the other hand, you have to question the sanity of the developers who used prime South Coast land to plonk a noisy, emission-spewing airport that cannot expand, unless it fills in all of Lyall or large parts of Evans Bay, for its freight operations; that is buying up low-decile schools and neighbourhoods to turn into corporate wastelands; that sits on a fault line and in a tsunami path; and is highly threatened by rising sea levels and increased Cook Strait storms (including on all its very narrow access roads). Think about how special this part of the coast could be without an airport and how much more secure an airport would be that is situated on more stable and resilient land further north. It’s certainly our dream, but isn’t it time we all start talking about other, smarter, more resilient options as a City?

Dr Rotmann is co-chair of the Guardians of the Bays


  1. Trish, 16. October 2015, 12:05

    The citizens of Wellington saved the Moa Point community once before when we helped elect community activist Ray Mercer to Council to stop the “toilet on the beach” sewer outfall. Unfortunately he has turned out to be the most anti-community privatiser and destroyer of community assets, with no time for consultation or compromise. For his latest affronts I’m thinking of the flyover and the waterfront. We won’t be doing that again.

  2. JC, 16. October 2015, 12:45

    OK great. But I still don’t want to see a street of 21 houses prevent development at the airport that will benefit a region, no matter how “special” they are. I appreciate this may come at the detriment to the homeowners – but that is part of living in a city, especially so close to the airport.

  3. Liz Springford, 16. October 2015, 16:32

    The Moa Point community and beach is a special part of Wellington. Another casualty, along with our precious rates, in the airport’s expansionist climate change denial. We simply can’t afford projects that increase climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions from burning large-scale non-renewable dirty energy. The airport wants to double their climate damage – making a mockery of local council efforts to create a more sustainable city and region. The airport is both ignoring the climate impact of their runway expansion and that the area will be under water before this century finishes – faster if others act like the airport and increase emissions too.

  4. Kerry, 16. October 2015, 17:02

    Air transport regionally will wither away, as it is already doing in Europe, where fast rail & local bus services have trumped Air France for the regions. Air NZ could go the same way, because those emissions have to come down, & gas is getting more expensive every year. We should be looking to improve our public mass transport (buses, trains), not extending runways for dubious benefits.

    Fav Moa Point memory: a wild and gorgeous solstice night bonfire with the locals, followed by dining and a boogie with friends. Beautiful place, special people.

  5. Norman, 16. October 2015, 17:19

    Rather than relying on ‘build it and they will fly in’ promises by local body politicians and incomplete analysis, I’m waiting to see if there’s a real business case which justifies the collective investment of resources, including our rates and taxes, to extend the runway.

  6. Dr Sea Rotmann, 16. October 2015, 17:31

    Thanks guys, much appreciated! And I agree with you Trish – Ray has long let us down, and now he’s willing to even sell out his little blue penguins for no more than a pipe dream! JC – I hear ‘ya, and if it was just for the sake of 21 houses and the business case would stack up (it doesn’t as no airline wants to fly here long-haul and there is no funding for it) I wouldn’t be fighting this so hard. This project really doesn’t make sense in any way – economic, social, climate, environmental, resilience etc…

  7. Chris, 16. October 2015, 19:30

    If the council supported the public interest, it would plan to substantially reduce flights, to reduce fossil fuel burnt. Our young people need politicians on their side in the challenge of reducing fossil fuel to achieve a safe climate.

    About half the passengers crossing the border are Kiwis leaving. Our local shops, restaurants and businesses would be wealthier if Wellingtonians spent their discretionary money here, rather than being “induced” to travel overseas. Smart products are increasingly exported online and business travel is increasingly replaced by teleconferencing and online exchange.

  8. John Beddie, 16. October 2015, 19:35

    So the the airport has elected to go through the Environment Court rather than the Environmental Protection Agency hearing process. My experience with the E.V. is that they are pretty “relaxed” about what passes for Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE). Could it be that the EPA requires a higher bar than the E.V.? The “business case” would probably be shot down in the EPA? Crafty, eh?

  9. Phil C, 17. October 2015, 4:10

    All power to you in fighting this, the latest in a long line of poorly thought out infrastructure projects in Wellington.

  10. syrahnose, 17. October 2015, 8:25

    “Air transport regionally will wither away, as it is already doing in Europe, where fast rail & local bus services have trumped Air France for the regions.”

    Utter nonsense, Ryanair and Easyjet chomped into Air France’s expensive fares and high operating costs, and the unions there refused to adapt. That’s why there has been a decline in that airline alone. There are many more ‘bus-like service’ regional flights to more places inside France and throughout Europe now, alongside good fast train service and excellent high speed roading.

    ‘Air NZ could go the same way, because those emissions have to come down, & gas is getting more expensive every year.”

    Err, gas is cheaper actually almost everywhere in Europe and North America, presumably most other parts of the world; it only seems not to drop in NZ. Peak oil hasn’t happened as everyone presumed, and the oil-based economies of Iran and Russia are hurting because prices have dropped so much. Given the fact that electric cars are common in the US now, with recharging stations even in supermarkets and restaurant car parks, oil is unlikely to rise for a long, long time. They sell Telsas in shopping malls in America for heaven’s sake!

    “We should be looking to improve our public mass transport (buses, trains), not extending runways for dubious benefits.”

    Developed world levels of mass transit and roading should both be goals, alongside an airport that could bring in passengers to Wellington that would help offset the lopsided entry to Auckland where everything stays, and forever crippled Christchurch. Want to solve the high house prices in Auckland and slow its gridlock? Direct jobs, tourism and opportunities back to Wellington. It always seems to be a handful of people who continue to drag progress in Wellington purely to satisfy their narrow, self interests or pet hobby horses.

  11. Cr paul bruce, 17. October 2015, 10:45

    Wellington Airport seems to be living on a different planet, ignoring sea level rise and the greatest environmental challenge ever of climate change. Greater Wellington’s Climate Change Strategy approved in September has a vision of strengthening the long-term resilience of the region through climate change action. We do this through reducing greenhouse emissions across our areas of influence and creating the conditions for a smart, innovative, low-carbon economy while managing climate change-related impacts. Alternatives such as taking holidays in New Zealand, and utilising skype for follow-up business meetings, can dramatically reduce our perceived need to fly. Diesel buses can also be replaced with trolleys, light rail and battery electric buses assembled and powered in Wellington region.

    The airport company should cease planning for the runway extension and advocating for new roads, and instead support low-emission public transport and other amazing opportunities.

  12. luke, 17. October 2015, 14:59

    A lot of shorthaul regional flights could be replaced by decent rail and coaches on motorways if only we had the decent rail and road in which to run them.

    Unfortunately we would be talking billions of dollars.

  13. Esjay, 17. October 2015, 18:07

    Look what happened when Air Asia decided to fly Long Haul into NZ. They soon realised that bums on seats were essential to their business – they pulled out and left the risk to the established airlines. Is it any wonder that Air NZ will not use Wellington as a hub! This proves that the cost of a ticket to fly long haul is the criterion to travel rather than allegiance to any airport of departure.Now that the Airport Company is going to build a hotel at the airport, this surely will put the Kaibosh on any argument that the CBD will prosper from a runway extension for long haul operations.

  14. Wil, 17. October 2015, 20:56

    Welly airport could be underwater within 85 years. Just read the reports and forecasts on sea level rise. Mortgaging the future for short term gain is morally unacceptable. What is Wellington airport’s escape from sea level rise strategy? We need to prepare for and act to prevent huge environmental change, not borrow beyond our means to turn over a quick dollar. I love welly airport. It’s a beautiful thing and a pleasure to use (unless you’re driving on the ex-public access road to the coast). But this extension idea SUCKS and will ruin Moa Point and worse.

  15. Build it now!, 18. October 2015, 11:07

    Thanks for the article. It’s good to hear that the airport is consulting better on this project. What this article put into perspective for me was what little impact the longer runway is going to have. I think everyone who chooses to live in their given community will feel the same way about their community as the author does – it’s not unique to Moa Point or its residents. The author quotes 21 residents who’ll be affected, which seems a small number compared to other developments that have occurred in the country; and none of these residents are being forced out of their homes by compulsory acquisition. I’m guessing their views will be affected a bit by an extension into a bay which is already man-made and has been redeveloped many times over the years. Yes i’m sure “Moa Point and its community” are a special part of wellington, but i’d like to think that everyone/everywhere is. How will the runway extension actually wreck Moa Point?

    I laugh at the comments regarding the runway extension and rises in sea level. The runway is 41 feet (12.5 metres) above sea level – and probably 8-10 metres above the surrounding road network. Clearly more immediate issues will need to be dealt with around sea level rise before the runway becomes relevant. And if you follow the sea level rise risk argument, then that strengthens the case to extend Wellington’s runway, as Auckland Airport’s runway is half the height above sea level (23 feet) than Wellington’s runway, and so IF this level of sea rise does occur Wellington will need to become an alternative for Auckland.

  16. Island Bay Rules, 18. October 2015, 11:16

    Ray voted for the sale of 2 empty sections at the entrance to Red Rocks in 2010, which would have caused the demise of precious breeding grounds for our feathered friends. Many thanks to the Island Bay Residents Association and Robert Logan who managed to put a stop to that.

  17. Esjay, 19. October 2015, 8:40

    “Build it now:” your wry sense of humour is sick. How can you compare Auckland Airport to Wellington Airport? How many southerly storms and 15-metre swells has it endured? Auckland Airport does not sit slap bang in the eye of one of the roughest stretches of ocean in the world. And Auckland Airport has many long haul airlines operating out of it that are economical. Is the Auckland City Council proposing to subsidise future capital works at their airport? Why did Wellington Airport go begging to the ratepayer for a subsidy for the Resource Consent when it can afford to throw money at a terminal extension and a new hotel?

  18. luke, 20. October 2015, 9:03

    I hope the nimbys dont stop this project. We need it now. I cant wait personally.

  19. Esjay, 20. October 2015, 9:41

    Luke, as a ratepayer you should be a nimby as well. If you cannot wait for your money to be spent recklessly, then you are a rare commodity.

  20. luke, 20. October 2015, 12:41

    well as a ratepayer I believe I stand to benefit from the increased options provided by a more robust infrastructure.

  21. Marion Leader, 20. October 2015, 13:09

    Pointing no fingers, but remember that most of the pro-business types in this world can deduct tax from their rates. So they care a lot less than the rest of us.

  22. Andrew, 20. October 2015, 13:09

    What are the increased options if no long haul carrier takes advantage of the longer runway? I hate to ask the obvious, but what is the point in the exercise if there is no interest from long haul carriers? The whole ‘build it and they will come’ is a fallacy in my opinion.

  23. Esjay, 20. October 2015, 17:10

    Luke, unsure how you can reach this conclusion. Perhaps you are overpaid in your employment. If that is the case then maybe you couldn’t care less how much this project is going to cost. Since when was the sky the limit to those who posses a business acumen. Perhaps you can list the robust infrastructure that Wellington stands to gain and how much extra in rates this expenditure will create?

  24. luke, 20. October 2015, 17:33

    The longer runway will, if I understand correctly, raise the maximum takeoff weight of aircraft using wellington, meaning existing planes/carriers would be more efficient than currently. a win for everybody. [MTOW of an aircraft is fixed, and does not vary with … the length of the runway to be used for takeoff or landing – wikipedia.]

  25. Andrew, 20. October 2015, 18:36

    I think Luke is implying planes are currently departing Wellington airport under their MTOW and the extra length will allow them to take off at 100%.
    How this affects current routes I don’t know.

  26. Esjay, 21. October 2015, 15:20

    Luke, you’re getting off the subject. Affordability is the matter in hand and then comes the Business Case, and then comes the High Court Hearing in November, and then it’s a question of the design length and then comes the tendered cost. And by the way the question needs to be answered why the ratepayer has to fund the extension when it’s only a 1/3rd shareholder. Finally: what is there to stop Infratil from selling its 2/3rd shareholding and leaving the Council holding the baby?

  27. Dr Sea Rotmann, 23. October 2015, 9:02

    You mean holding the white elephant, Esjay? 😉

  28. Esjay, 23. October 2015, 15:12

    After yesterday’s Council meeting, the White Elephant would be complimentary. Who on earth would invest any money – let alone a meager $300 million at least – without being aware of a financial return of any kind? Oh, I know, the Wellington City Council of course! After all, investment in the Pandas will further assist the vibrancy and dynamic spirit of the CBD.

  29. Dr Sea Rotmann, 24. October 2015, 2:14

    I can’t believe they would actually think of going back on their word (nay! law?) in the long term plan that they need to see a committed long-haul airline first before spending any more of our money on this. If this is the case, we have to vote the lot of them out!

  30. jenni, 25. October 2015, 9:29

    I love Wellington. I love the denseness of our high rise central city, the vivid harbour, the encircling belt of green, the closeness of the stunning wild south coast. I’ve experienced a lot of cities around the world and Wellington remains one of my favorites. But, it is very small.
    I’d like to look into the future and see Wellington being loved and lived in, and worked in and visited for business and pleasure by many more people than it is today. To support many more people, we need more infrastructure.
    Better roads, light rail through the city (which we can’t afford with our current small population) and easier, faster international connections.
    An airport extension will be disruptive for a few years and for some households. So is all development.
    Do we want to stay small, a twee wee branch line off Auckland, or do we want to grow?
    I’d be interested in hearing people’s visions for our future (rather than abuse of other contributors and the council).

  31. Dr Sea Rotmann, 26. October 2015, 9:10

    Jenni – I love Wellington too, have chosen it to be my turangawaewae (or it has chosen me?) and am a great ambassador for its beauty and quality of life on my travels, also bringing dozens of people here to visit me every year. However, we need to be serious about what Wellington is and what it isn’t. It isn’t Auckland and never will be. We will never have a million+ people, as the lay of the land doesn’t permit it unless we build nothing but skyscraper apartments and infill whatever available land we have (unrealistic in light of our earthquake risk). We will never attract the number of tourists both Auckland and Christchurch, as gateway to the South Island, can. We are a great place to live (if you can deal with the weather which a lot of people can’t) but not the most amazing place to visit if you choose to fly 14h or 28h halfway around the world. The South Coast is one of the areas that make Wellington most special and it needs to be preserved. There is zero guarantee that the airport extension will deliver even a single extra long-haul flight – they’re pretty much admitting that, by saying we just have to build it and hope. The airport wants the public to pay for it to have a greater asset base but says it’s not economic for itself to do so. That doesn’t sound like a future-proof investment, nor does building more infrastructure on a fault-line on land that has been thrown up by a previous earthquake, is in a tsunami zone, one of the most threatened areas in Wellington by sea level rises and the increased extreme storm events that have seen Moa Point Road closed 5 times this year. The vision for the future has to be about what is realistically feasible, including how we can survive in a rapidly changing environment (both socio-political and environmental), how we can make ourselves resilient for the long-term future and look beyond the next 30 years when investing hundreds of millions of public money. We have significant problems in this city re earthquake strengthening, cost and ability to get insurance, stormwater issues and transport bottlenecks etc. The money that would be thrown at this extension could be much better spent elsewhere.

  32. Positively, 26. October 2015, 12:09

    I share Jenni’s vision of a larger Wellington population in the future. Many of the drawbacks of living here are due to population size. Quite simply the Wellington region would be a much more interesting, vibrant place with a population of one million plus living in it.

    I do not share the view that Wellington must fall behind Auckland and Christchurch in the future terms of growth and development. There is an underlying assumption in NZ politics and media that this is inevitably Wellington’s future. Parties from both sides of the political spectrum buying into this depressing vision for their own reasons I suspect. The left is against growth, the right is against change. Hard to find any (especially older) politicians willing to stand up for a positive future for Wellington.

    By the way, it is factually quite wrong to say that the lay of the land precludes the region having a greater population, or that all new development will need to be infill or high density due to topography (not that there is anything wrong with infill, or high density). There are literally thousands of hectares of land suitable for suburban development around our region, including great swathes of land between the Hutt & the Porirua basin, on the Kapiti Coast, and also in the Wairarapa.

  33. Nora, 26. October 2015, 15:28

    Well said Sea. Jenni, I too love Wellington – born and bred here, lived in Auckland, Manila and London, travelled extensively in Europe and North America, but home is where the heart is and Wellington is the “heart”. A good example of how easy it is to move around: just this morning I have been to the landfill, a short walk along the coast (not all the way to Red Rocks!) back via Island Bay to the city along our waterfront and shopping in Thorndon. All in 3 hours. The weekend also included a trip to Circa and several coffee club meet ups with visitors from out of town who all enjoy the easy access and walkability of our city, with comments about how lovely to see the children (and adults) playing on Frank Kitts Park just minutes from the CBD.

    WOW has been another great success with so many visitors filling the hotels/motels. So who needs millions spent on a Runway when the city already buzzes. With the Festival of the Arts next year, just one sad loss to the community is our Town Hall still not strengthened. Put the money there.

  34. John L, 26. October 2015, 17:13

    @Nora I clearly can see we don’t need the runway. BUT the money for other unnecessary schemes is not “there” .Since the town hall is up to the existing stringent building code, that means it can be used by the community and Festival of the Arts . This means less money that the ratepayers would need to borrow with interest.
    @Positively the population of Wellington does not need to be grown, as Wellington is not ‘underpopulated’.

  35. Richard, 18. November 2015, 22:35

    Last night I saw Naomi Klein’s film This Changes Everything. It documents the way in which big business all over the world tramples over local residents in the pursuit of profit. Any concern about damage to the environment, ancestral lands, and self-sustaining lifestyles is thrust aside as heavy machinery rips everything apart. As a global society we are driven by an obsession with growth, greed and profit: some are architects of the schemes, most of us passive floaters in the tide. In the case of the airport extension, all we have are glossy visions of more of the same, bolstered by the fancy PR machine that only the proposers have the money to pay for. Except that much of the money comes from our pockets as ratepayers. It is time we stood up as a society to oppose these juggernauts that degrade our environment, our society, our values, and us all as individuals.