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Retiree Dave has big plans for Ngataringa Bay

Flagstaff Team

A character of the bay… Dave Coker is one year into a project to build a walkway and shore up Lake Rd

Clad in hard-toed boots, working clothes and a distinctive fluorescent vest, a Devonport retiree is devoting his days to creating a “low-tide walk- way” among the mangroves of Ngataringa Bay.

Dave Coker, 78, has been working on the project for the past year, moving rocks from nearby Ngataringa Park to build a path and raised-bed gardens on the mud flats. “This will be one of the biggest walkways in the country,” he says, referring to his plan to link the low-tide walkway to nearby Polly’s Park or “Polly’s Folly”, as he likes to call it.

Coker helped local identity Mabel ‘Polly’ Pollock build Mary Barrett Glade, which is now closed off, along the coast below the Ryman development. In addition, Coker says he is shoring up Lake Rd, where it crosses the reclaimed land.

He will strengthen the road bridge with concrete, perhaps a sheet of steel, and cover that over with rocks. “That bridge is ready to go,” he says, waving towards Lake Rd, adding that he needs concrete and builders mix.

The plan is in his head. It’s a big plan. He wants to form a beach again. He wants to dry out Lake Rd. Coker has started piling rocks under the bridge, drawing on a lifetime of labouring and boatbuilding for his vision.

Some of the plants in the raised beds – pitto- sporum, koromiko, pohutukawa, flax and other natives – are dying. Many are regularly sub- merged at high tide. Others are pulling through.

Coker has the look of an old sea dog, with a bushy white beard, tinted ginger, and a strong wiry frame. He has lived in Devonport for around 30 years, but is originally from Beach Haven, where he was a friend of fellow beach-builder Frank Larking.

A dog walker passing by stops and remarks Coker is always ready for a chat. “I love the way he [Coker] has been considering it all for ages. He keeps on going and slaving away for the benefit of everyone else. It’s a selfless act,” Neil Fitzgerald says.

However, some residents have concerns about the unregulated nature of Coker’s project. Long-time champion for Ngataringa Bay Lyndsay Brock is unhappy he is reclaiming land and has removed a number of mangroves. Brock fought to have the bay recognised as a special ecological area, with several archaeological sites.

Brock also has serious concerns about the safety of the path, especially for children.

Devonport Peninsula Precincts Society chair Iain Rea worries about the “unschooled” nature of Coker’s project. Rea points out mangroves protect the land from the sea, and Coker has removed “a whole lot of them”.

On the other hand, Coker has a long history with the bay. “He’s part of the character of the bay.” North Shore councillor Chris Darby hopes council staff will help Coker channel his boundless energy in a useful way.

Darby says he can’t ignore concerned constituents, but also understands Coker is working selflessly for the community.

Auckland Council team manager for compliance investigations Kerri Ferguson said the council investigated a 12 November complaint about the removal of mangroves in Ngataringa Bay Reserve. Officers confirmed the alteration and removal of vegetation had occurred and a pathway had also been constructed using mainly concrete and volcanic rocks.

The removal of vegetation is a breach of the Auckland Unitary Plan; however, the construction of the path and replanting are not. Council compliance officers spoke to the person undertaking the work, Ferguson says.

“A verbal warning for removal of vegetation was given at the time, along with education about the rules.” However, as this is not council land and is in fact owned by the Crown, the council is unable to take the matter further.

Source: Devonport Flagstaff 8 February 2019. View Online.