Tena kotoe katoa and welcome back to the Upoko o te Ika a Maui. After a brief holiday, I’m back. While I’ve been off relaxing, Philip has been hard at work, planning and redesigning the website, adding in a search button so that you can search by key-words for key subject areas, giving it a more modern funky interface, and most wonderful of all to me: removing all the spam. That’s magic! But there’s only one story ready to tell right now, and it is set to be a mighty showdown.

Now, that’s what we want to see! No, not just our splendid new website design (thanks Philip!!) but the battle over Motu Kairangi – or the Miramar Peninsula. Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the harbour, like a giant Taniwha, you will be aware that the developer’s proposal for Shelly Bay has been a bit controversial over the past few years. And now there is an alternative proposal.

Let’s look back at the history of the place. Easier said than done – the history is convoluted. Perhaps it is easier to say: land was taken under the Defence Act for the purposes of a Naval Base, but this has lapsed many years ago. The buildings on the base have also lapsed, in most cases lapsing sideways into the sea. Despite its undeniable romanticism of the derelict wharf buildings, the truth is that a complete lack of upkeep in one of the more hostile marine conditions in the capital, mean that most of the buildings and wharfs on the site are shot.

Defence moved out, Government offered the land back to the original owners – ie Maori local iwi, with other areas owned by WCC. Land swaps, back room deals, all the usual drama: end result is that local developer Ian Cassells of The Wellington Company (TWC) is now the developer of the waterfront scheme at Shelly Bay. There is more to it than that, of course, much more, but the gist of it is that not everyone agrees that TWC has the right to be there, to do that development. Including some of the iwi who feel they were shafted, and including many of the citizens of this city, who feel that if they haven’t been shafted yet, then very soon they will be.

Enter the dragon – no, enter the taniwha. In fact, two of them: Ngake and Whātaitai the taniwha of Wellington harbour.

Once long ago, before the time of Kupe, when Te Ika-a-Māui was just fished from the depths of the ocean, there lived two taniwha, Ngake and Whātaitai. In those times, Wellington Harbour, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, was a lake cut off from the sea, and abundant in fresh water fish and native bird life. Ngake and Whātaitai lived here in the lake at the head of the fish of Māui (Te Ika-a-Māui).

Ngake and Whātaitai had a great life in their special lake, with all the time in the world to do as they pleased. Ngake was a taniwha with lots of energy. He liked to race around the shores, chasing fish and eels and leaping after birds that came too close. Whātaitai was the opposite, he preferred to laze on the lake’s shores, sunbathing and dreaming taniwha dreams…..

…..One morning there was a dreadful shudder beneath the ocean floor. A huge earthquake erupted. Whātaitai was lifted out of the shallow water and high above sea level. Whātaitai could do nothing, he was stranded high above the water and he knew his life would end. Whātaitai bade farewell to his many bird friends and animals and soon after gasped his final breath.

As he died, Whātaitai’s spirit transformed into a bird, Te Keo, and flew to the closest mountain, Matairangi (Mount Victoria). Te Keo looked down on the huge taniwha body that stretched across the raised sea bed and cried. She cried for the great friendships Whātaitai had made, shown by the huge numbers of birds and sea life that had gathered around, and for the freedom of the sea which Whātaitai would never experience. When Te Keo had completed her lament, she bade farewell to Whātaitai, then set off to the taniwha spirit world. Over the years Whātaitai’s body turned to stone, earth and rock and is known to this day as Haitaitai. Matairangi still looks down on the body of Whātaitai and the very top of Matairangi is still known as Tangi te Keo.

When Ngake let the spring in his tail loose he used so much force that he created a great gash in the earth and a river was formed. This river is now called Teawakairangi or the Hutt River. The remnants of rock smashed aside when Ngake exited into the sea are visible today and Te Aroaro o Kupe (Steeple Rock) and Te Tangihanga o Kupe (Barrett’s Reef) have long been known as dangerous rock formations to mariners entering the Wellington harbour.

Although Ngake was never seen again it is still believed that he resides in the turbulent waters of the Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook Strait). When the sea is calm Ngake is off exploring Te Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). When the sea is turbulent and rough, Ngake is at home chasing sea life to satisfy his taniwha appetite. And this is the story of Ngake and Whātaitai, the taniwha of the Wellington harbour, with thanks to Wiremu Grace.

So the huge full colour double page spread in Saturday’s paper advertising the alternative scheme for the area is a Pretty Big Deal. The Motu Kairangi Design Group has proposed an alternative vision for the peninsula, one that does not involve numerous mid-rise apartment buildings. Instead, it offers an overall vision for the entire north half of the peninsula : across the vast bulk of Whātaitai, who lies still in the harbour.

There is a waharoa at the entry, an eco-tourist research and education centre, a cultural centre, a military museum, a feature sculpture area, walkways, a gondola up a hill, pathways, walkways, bike ways, and so much more.

The question now is: what next? There is millions at stake here. Cassells is saying that he wishes they had come and talked to him at the time (but many have tried that, to no avail: Cassells knows best). Architecture + the architects of the Cassells design are probably keeping quiet, which is a pity, and it would be good to get their honest opinion on the new scheme. Some members of the public are of course going to say: good on you if you are going to stop those hideous Soviet era skyscrapers, except that I can tell you that we’ve discussed that before, and they’ve certainly not Soviet era high-rises. “We need to talk about Shelly” and so we did.

The design quality of the proposed scheme is fantastic – vibrant fresh ideas and would make Wellington far more of a destination that would another upmarket subdivision, but there is one big question laying all over this proposal at the first glance: who’s gonna pay?