Cracker of a year for Central Otago
2016 has been a cracker year for Central Otago, and it is not looking to slow down in 2017.
Population growth, development and investment is evident across the region. New subdivisions are appearing at rapid rates; retirement homes are being built, extended and investigated in Cromwell and Alexandra, while Maniototo plans to invest $5 million in redeveloping its hospital in the near future. There are new businesses appearing in townships, adding vibrancy, innovation, and quality experiences for visitors and locals. Meanwhile, existing businesses are developing forward-thinking, innovative plans - the Wooing Tree’s vineyard village for instance, and the multi-million dollar redevelopment of The Gate.
Innovation has featured in news articles a lot. Specifically, the success of the Centre of Space Science Technology. The Government announced this year it will provide funding of up to $14.7 million over four years for the new institute, with additional funding from industry. The spinoff for the region - and country - is expected to be mammoth.
Another big news story was of course the election, with Tony Lepper - who had been in local government for 27 years - losing the mayoralty to lawyer Tim Cadogan. During the campaign, Lepper took a lot of criticism from angry voters about the council’s decision to introduce districtwide rates funding in 2016. Also in politics, Cromwell-based politician Michael Laws dominated headlines during the Otago Regional Council election when he took a Dunstan Ward seat off incumbent councillor Gary Kelliher by five votes. He con- tinues to make his voice heard, lambasting the council for their ‘‘inaction’’ over issues such as lake snow in the region’s lakes.
On a lighter side, there was a big milestone celebrated this year that made national headlines - the 60th anniversary of the Alexandra Blossom Festival. Organiser Martin McPherson, and the committee, did a brilliant job, particularly bringing together all the former blossom festival queens. Another special milestone - on a more private, but no less important scale - was the 100th birthday of Ranfurly’s Bessie Pearson. What a character.
I have lost count of stories I have written over 2016, but one story that will stay with me was the passing of Riley Brown. The Alexandra one-year-old was born with the rare congenital disorder Zellweger syndrome. In my 12-year career as a journalist, I don’t think I have ever been touched by someone’s story so deeply. To be allowed to write about this family’s love, struggle and grief was a sincere privilege. People don’t have to tell their stories to the world. This family did. And in doing so, I think they taught everyone what a parent’s unconditional love looks like. What strength, courage and fight looks like. What life should be about.
Kobe, 5, and Cruz Nicolson, 7, of Cromwell, at the 2016 Alexandra Blossom Festival.