The two-toilet block overlooks the popular Whanganui A Hei marine reserve – a key attraction for visitors to Cathedral Cove, an idyllic location visited by more than quarter of a million people every year.
Hidden discreetly between two large pohutukawa trees at the southern end of the picturesque white-sand beach, the toilets are in an elevated timber structure with visitors’ waste captured in four large plastic drums.
Visitors using the toilets can gaze out over the beach and the adjacent marine reserve while answering the call of nature.
Ian Booth, a Whitianga-based DOC Recreation Ranger, oversees the toilet cleaning operation, which requires the use of a helicopter and its crew, a septic tank truck and several DOC staff.
The first stage of the job requires shepherding visitors to the northern end of the beach and temporarily closing the operation area to the public.
A DOC Marine Ranger in a boat is positioned just off the beach to ensure other vessels and recreational water users don’t sail under the helicopter’s flight path.
The toilets’ waste drums are on trolleys, which roll out from beneath the toilets on specially constructed rails.
The helicopter hovers above the beach and using a special 45m dynamic long line and remote hook device, it lifts the drums one by one to a nearby landing site on a farmer’s paddock.
The waste in the drums is then pumped into a waiting septic tank truck, before the drums are returned to the beach via chopper. The septic tank truck empties its load at an approved facility.
All told, more than 3.5 tonnes of waste were emptied from the four drums this week. During the busiest times of year, the combined weight of the full drums can exceed four tonnes.
The drums are emptied four times a year. The entire operation takes about a day for DOC to undertake when factoring in advanced notification to concessionaries, arranging contractors and then on-site set-up, safety briefings and the drum emptying task.
“This particular cleaning job was scheduled for March, but due to the COVID-19 lockdown we had to postpone it. Logistics are a key part of the puzzle and that includes a fine weather window, which we were fortunate to get this week,” Ian Booth says.
DOC also used the helicopter to lift out a surf lifeguard tower and drop in fibreglass floor shells for the toilets to make ongoing maintenance simpler and reduce wear and tear of the toilets’ timber floors.
Ian Booth says the installation and maintenance of the Cathedral Cover toilets demonstrates the effort DOC goes to in order to maintain the visitor experience.
“We have a nationwide campaign, ‘Poo in a loo’, encouraging our visitors to use our toilet facilities, so making sure we’re cleaning up after those people is pretty important.”
DOC’s Whitianga staff expect the toilets will next be emptied in December.