Wellington Scoop

Wellington from the Wairarapa

hills of the wairarapa

by Ian Apperley
Spring has arrived in the Wairarapa, with grass growing (it never really stopped over what was an warmer than usual winter) and everything starting to flower. Days are longer, warmer, drier, and the farm requires more work than ever to prepare for the annual growth spurt before summer.

The region is booming. As an escape hole for weekend Wellingtonians, traffic jams become the norm in the towns and local businesses are busy, despite the Level 2 restrictions. Property continues to be hot, with more and more people moving into the area and more and more bare blocks of land on the market.

Those bare blocks, often bought by people outside the region, are a source of concern for the local farmers for two reasons.

First, the time it takes to get a house built often means that previously productive land is not only unused, it also starts to go to wrack and ruin. Even with our paddocks, constant vigilance is needed to make sure that pest plants are not going to spread. Leaving bare block land unmaintained means eventually dealing with a jungle of weeds and long grass.

Second, again because the land is left unattended, pests such as rabbits are left to flourish. In some parts of the region, the rabbit population has reached “plague” proportions.

We have seen an uptick in rabbits and ferrets. I watched a ferret merrily making its way down the road during daylight hours recently, bold as brass. We are training the dogs to cleanly and humanely dispatch rabbits; however, the little bounders are very, very quick on their feet.

Indeed, there are more pest signs in the local area, and one can only wonder if this is because the Regional Council has abandoned trapping in a reserve block down the road.

With the general election looming, local candidates for Wairarapa are putting their best feet forward, including Celia Wade-Brown emerging from the bush to have a Green crack at the race. There are fewer parties contesting this election than 2017.

My pick is that we will see the party vote go to National, then NZ First, then Labour. The Greens certainly will not get a look in, and Labour is not well-liked in the area. Ron Mark, NZ First, is a constant presence around the traps, and a new National candidate who looks like a clone of the last National candidate should poll well.

Despite only being an hour’s drive from Wellington’s CBD, the Wairarapa is undeniably rural minded, which makes sense, given the valley’s primary purpose of food production, which supports many local communities clustered around that industry.

People believe that the Labour Party is mostly disconnected from the rural life, and that coupled with the Greens, it is actively threatening jobs, while overreaching with new legislation that comes at a high-cost to farmers of all kinds. God help you if you have a farm that contains a water race or backs onto a stream or river. And god help you if you do not, because water, or lack of it, is becoming a significant issue in the area with water schemes being blocked. I am oversimplifying the landscape; however, you get the picture.

I still regularly read and watch the goings-on in Wellington City. It seems to me that things may get a lot worse before they start to claw their way back. The City Council still seems to be irrevocably broken, at odds with each other, while there appears no strategy to think about how to live with COVID and grow the city.

The Council estimates about the number of people likely to move to Wellington over the next few years are wildly optimistic. Someone needs to run new models that take into account the extreme cost of housing (price and rent), the movement of people from the city to nearby regions (increasing rapidly and more so as new roads are built), the move to working from home as a standard, distribution of government and private jobs to regions to increase accessibility while reducing cost, and the possibility of the CBD failing.

City “leaders” – I use that term very loosely because I don’t see many who fit the word – have bound themselves to the idea that events will save the city, that they can return to the halcyon days of the mid-2010s; they fail to see that the decline of Wellington started well before COVID and that the pandemic is speeding up the process.

I think that while the CBD will suffer a decline, suburban areas are more likely to flourish. Lockdown taught us about the value of our suburbs and what they had to offer. Again, as more people work from home and events continue to be stunted under lockdowns, suburbs are doing better.

But the Council continues to ignore those suburbs because the primary source of its money comes from the CBD in terms of horrendous pricing for infrastructure and commercial rates. As the CBD shrinks, that money will reduce, requiring more money from domestic ratepayers who are generally paying a horrific amount already with double-digit increases on the horizon.

It’s time the Council started a much broader discussion about what the future of the city should look like, rather than trying to define that by relying on the WCC executive, WREDA, and the Chamber of Commerce, who are all using the early 1990’s playbook as a strategy.

Until that happens, I fear the decline will deepen.

In the meantime, we have a couple of kilometres of irrigation to paddocks that needs maintaining, to ensure that the bore water we have access to is not wasted as we head into the hotter weeks ahead.


  1. Dave B, 6. September 2020, 12:01

    “… the party vote will go to National.”
    My oh my, if that is the case what short memories people have. The party that de-funded everything except motorways. The party of 1000 cuts.

  2. Greg B, 6. September 2020, 12:15

    An interesting article. However, the author has ignored every global – & NZ – trend towards increasing urbanisation, and increasing density in cities. Yes, the Wellington CBD will have to evolve as employers seek to downsize and have more of us & no doubt council will have to adapt too.

    But the city will grow. It’s where people and services – and jobs – still predominantly are: just look at the busy trains heading through the Rimutaka tunnel each morning towards Wellington. And at least the WCC (for all its issues) is trying to do something about urban growth – even if it is being stymied by a plague of NIMBYism.

    I do agree that the Wairarapa is booming – or should that be “Boomering” – as (mostly) retirees are moving out to the region, which is great for the towns there. But where is the grown up debate in the Wairarapa about providing the necessary additional infrastructure for them as they age and their needs increase (expanded health / social care / other facilities & services)? What about how to pay for it, not to mention the younger workers desperately needed to provide these services: ironically the very demographic currently making a beeline for the city?

    Where’s the debate in that National Party fiefdom about more value for money for ratepayers (3, yes 3! – Councils for the Wairarapa – talk about needless duplication of bureaucracy).

    Every time I visit or read about the valley the loudest voices are just saying the same old same old about farmers and their constant travails with, well, everything. If the Wairarapa is to thrive (and benefit from Wellington’s changes) these debates will need to happen soon. Some introspection and constructive critiquing, instead of lobbing clods of muck over the Remutaka, will benefit both city and country (after all, we do rely on each other).

  3. TrevorH, 6. September 2020, 14:18

    Thanks for another great column Ian. COVID has, as you suggest, hastened the decline of the CBD. Meanwhile core infrastructure continues to collapse after years of council failure to invest, while preposterous vanity projects like the Convention Centre fritter away ratepayers’ hard-earned money. The Wairarapa looks very tempting – pity builders are in such short supply.

  4. Marion Leader, 6. September 2020, 17:11


  5. Larcus Mush, 6. September 2020, 20:52

    Exactly Trevor the WCC has no problem funding fireworks displays yet ignores fixing short phased and unsynchronised lights or painting yellow lines on one side of a narrow street

  6. Tom Watson, 7. September 2020, 7:08

    It’s looking like Labour will take this one out in Wairarapa actually I would wager. Having lived here all my life and paid especially close attention to the last electoral race, it seems Keiran McAnulty might have finally gathered enough support. Only bolstered by the current government’s large margin of public support over the flailing National Leadership. The Wairarapa needs more jobs and more infrastructure to keep people invested/putting down roots in the area. Farmers do sadly have more and more issues to deal with in this time of chaotic climate change-fuelled weather. I think it is good to have people like you Ian who put across how dire the situation is becoming but I dare say I have a heady optimism for the future nonetheless!

  7. Ian Apperley, 7. September 2020, 10:40

    Thanks, everyone for commenting, as always thought-provoking and interesting.

    I should get one thing straight, for those who are not familiar with my commentary, I am apolitical. I find it quite a chore to choose who to vote for each election. So, my comments around National winning aren’t so much an endorsement as an opinion.
    Tom, on that, there is some enthusiasm for the idea that Labour could win over here. That would surprise me based on the opinion on the ground and statistics. Labour has lost the electorate to National five times in a row and not since Georgina Beyer have they held it. Kieran has run before twice and has narrowed the margin. The National candidate is brand new, so, maybe it will be Kieran’s year.

    Greg, you make some excellent points. The city will continue to grow, and the question is how quickly, and what demographics. Will returning kiwis and high-value migrants push out those who cannot afford the increasing house prices? Wellington already has a population of which more than 50% were not born in New Zealand, and I suspect that will continue to grow. There is a whole other article of reckonings just on that topic!

    Boomers and Wairarapa, you want to avoid the supermarket on Gold Card days, that can be quite the experience; however, I see a lot of younger people moving in. Agree re the three Councils, it seems a little mad, and when, as you say, surrounding infrastructure of all types needs investment as the region grows, it makes more sense to combine forces.

    I think for the most part farmers get it. Certainly, where we are, they are invested heavily in doing the right things with two rivers passing through the area. They are also militant conservationists having dedicated a large block to regenerating a unique wetland. I suspect the mud throwing lot are much more likely to be aligned with a lobby group or two. Unhelpful and particularly vociferous in an election year, I often wonder who pulls their strings.

  8. Andy Mellon, 7. September 2020, 11:52

    I thought Kieran McAnulty had taken the approach that paid off for Chris Bishop in Hutt South. Basically, be as available and approachable a constituency MP as possible, then you’ll garner the votes. From what I understand, the previous National MP (Alastair Scott?) had been pretty anonymous whereas McAnulty was available for the opening of an envelope, as the old saying goes.

    McAnulty is clearly running against the headwinds of the general demographics of the Wairarapa, in a political sense, but the beauty of MMP is that you can split your vote and go for the candidate who puts in more effort locally for your constituency vote and use your party vote to align with the party you want to be running for government.

    It’ll be interesting to see the outcome.