Leigh Hop­per recog­nises an op­por­tu­nity when he sees one, and he saw one in 1996 when he flew over Whi­tianga en­route to Pauanui.

A swathe of farm­land caught his eye, tucked be­hind the lit­tle town and bounded by the river, with the beach just a hop, step, jump away.

But his mind’s eye pic­tured some­thing else: a canal de­vel­op­ment hous­ing 1000-plus homes, re­tire­ment vil­lages, big box stores and bou­tique re­tail, ma­rine ser­vic­ing, a med­i­cal cen­tre, and a ho­tel.

Three years later, con­sent for the first stage of Whi­tianga Wa­ter­ways was in hand, cel­e­brated with a big ‘‘hoo­ley’’.

Fast for­ward 18 years to last Satur­day, and Hop­per – man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Hop­per De­vel­op­ments and di­rec­tor of Whi­tianga Wa­ter­ways – cel­e­brated the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Grand Canal and the is­land it en­cir­cles, the coun­try’s first man-made res­i­den­tial is­land.

The de­vel­op­ment is about 40 per cent com­plete, with 460-plus sec­tions opened up and hun­dreds of houses built.

The 60-unit Mar­lin Wa­ters re­tire­ment vil­lage is un­der con­struc­tion, with units snapped up and oc­cu­pied as soon as they are built.

The Ware­house, Place­Mak­ers and Count­down su­per­mar­ket sit on wa­ter­ways land on the main road into town.

In an­other 20-odd years when it’s fin­ished, Whi­tianga Wa­ter­ways will be the sin­gle big­gest de­vel­op­ment on the Coro­man­del Penin­sula.

Dock­side, an eight-unit re­tail de­vel­op­ment with canal ac­cess, will house Whi­tianga Wa­ter­ways’ sales of­fice, a cafe and other ‘‘bou­tique’’ busi­nesses, and maybe a shared of­fice space, as con­nec­tiv­ity al­lows more peo­ple to work from the beach.

The Moor­ings 200-unit re­tire­ment com­plex of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent lev­els of care will be built across the main road.

Plans in­clude three four-storey apart­ment blocks and they plan to break ground within two years.

The timing is right, says Whi­tianga Wa­ter­ways project man­ager Peter Abra­ham­son, with ‘‘life­style re­tire­ment’’ projects go­ing ‘‘gang­busters’’ na­tion­wide as peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of re­tire­ment liv­ing changes.

It will be the lat­est of sev­eral multi-mil­lion dol­lar re­tire­ment com­plexes built and op­er­ated by Hop­per De­vel­op­ments.

Within five years, ex­pect to see progress on a 100-plus unit tourist ho­tel. The canal-front site has now been re­leased and the con­cept will be firmed up over the next few months.

But it won’t in­clude ‘‘a long cor­ri­dor with 100 doors off it’’, says Abra­ham­son.

*Con­tin­ued P8

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