Opening up the Omanawa Falls to public access with the construction of $2.7million of new tracks and stairs is being considered today by the Tauranga City Council's Economic Development and Investment Committee.
Public access to the falls is currently denied by the council, which doesn't prevent people from attempting the descent to the pool at the base of the falls, sometimes with disastrous results.
In March 2013, a 17-year-old girl fell and received pelvic injuries. In April 2013, a 20-year-old woman received head injuries after falling.
A 38-year-old father received serious back and shoulder injuries and his 12-year-old son received serious leg injuries in January 2015.
A 36-year-old French tourist had to be rescued after falling 10m off a cliff in October 2016, and in February this year another person was rescued after being injured in a fall.
Because of the health and safety risks, the falls are closed to the public. But keeping the public out is an ongoing issue. In spite of the ‘no entry' and ‘warning' signs, people continue to access the site, often leading to injury.
The main access to the bottom of the falls is via steep stairs through a hand-dug tunnel, says Tauranga City Council parks and environment team leader Warren Aitken.
This access is blocked by a large steel door. A second access via steps up to where the old transformer was situated, then onto an unformed informal track is also blocked off by a steel fence and signage.
An increasing number of people are attempting to access to the bottom of the falls via the informal track ignoring the danger and warning signs. The informal track is very steep and unsafe in many areas and uses existing stair/ladder structures that are in poor condition.
Council staff repair and re-secure to restrict access, as access ways are vandalised or created.
Today's decision is expected to be a recommendation to Council to support in principle inclusion in year 2019/20 of the 2018-28 Long Term Plan, $2.7m for upgrades to the Omanawa Falls Power Station Reserve.
Instead of trying to keep people out, the council is instead going to capitalise on the tourism potential of the spectacular falls, and the historic power station.
The recommended project includes: the design and construction of a staircase and landing structure that provides access to the bottom of the falls, a boardwalk and track at the base of the falls, replacement of the power station viewing platform, and land purchase and construction of a car parking area and new toilet facilities plus signage park furniture and an access gate.
“Once the infrastructure is in place, Omanawa Falls would be transformed from a hazardous escapade into an international quality visitor experience that supports additional tourism ventures and visitor spend in the region,” says Warren.
A survey undertaken by security at Omanawa Falls over 11 days in January and February 2017 showed the highest day recording was 155 visitors, while the average number of visitors per day was 59.
“These visitor numbers are particularly significant when it is taken into account that the site is closed, and there is high security fencing and prominent signage installed to keep visitors from an unsafe site,” says Warren.
“Omanawa Falls is becoming increasingly popular due to general word of mouth and the increase in the use of social media such as Facebook and Youtube. Programmes such as The Bachelor have also contributed to the popularity of the area.”
Tauranga City Council owns and maintains the 5.6ha Omanawa Falls Power Station Reserve which includes Omanawa Falls, a Historic Power Station, access track, and native bush planting.
Formal access to the Reserve is provided via an unsealed road leading to a small section of walking track that overlooks the Omanawa Falls, acting as a viewing platform.