Mercury Bay - specifically Cooks Beach and the ocean immediately behind Centre Island, opposite Hahei - was the past few weeks a focus point of Operation HIKI ANO, a period of significant training within the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Several ships are expected to be introduced or re-introduced into the Nav fleet during the next two years - including the frigates HMNZS Te Kaha and HMNZS Te Mana (currently undergoing refurbishment in Canada), resupply vessel HMNZS Aotearoa (currently under construction in South Korea) and HMNZS  Manawanui, the Navy’s new dive and hydrographic vessel (expected to be in service early next year) - and OP HIKI ANO is one of several opportunities for members of the Navy to further their training as crew for these ships.

Cooks Beach was chosen as the site for several amphibious landing exercises primarily because the area has already been surveyed by HMNZS Matataua, the Navy’s hydrography and diving unit. The exercises were coordinated from the Navy’s amphibious and military sealift vessel, HMNZS Canterbury.

HMNZS Wellington, one of the Navy’s two offshore patrol vessels, several units of the New Zealand Army (including the Ship’s Amphibious Load Team) and No 3 Squadron and No 6 Squadron of the New Zealand Defence Force have also participated in the exercises.

Several successful amphibious landings were conducted at Cooks Beach the week before last. Wednesday last week saw several high-ranking defence personnel (including the Deputy Chief of Navy, Commodore Mat Williams, Maritime Component Commander, Commodore Tony Millar, Air Component Commander, Air Commodore Tim Walshe and Land Component Commander, Brigadier Jim Bliss) flying onto the Canterbury to witness the landing exercises first-hand. Unfortunately, the wind direction was against the tide and caused the swell to be too rough for the transfer of vehicles from the Canterbury onto one of the ship’s two amphibious landing craft. The exercises could, accordingly, only be partially completed.

The day nevertheless provided a raft of ongoing training opportunities. Commander Martin Walker, the commanding officer of HMNZS Canterbury, says that OP HIKI ANO keeps them very busy. “The Canterbury normally carries a crew of about 120, but our numbers have been bolstered to 140,” he says. “The ship can carry an additional 240 defence force personnel on top of her crew and at the moment we have members of the Army and the Air Force on board as well. Our capability is well and truly tested, from our chefs having to prepare meals for many more people on board all the way through to our logistics personnel and the operators of our landing craft and RIBs [rigid hulled inflatable boats].

Commodore Tony Millar expressed in a memo circulated on Wednesday to all the “Sailors of Te Taua Moana o Aotearoa” (the Royal New Zealand Navy) his pleasure with OP HIKI ANO. “I have no doubt that together we are improving our readiness for the future capabilities that lie ahead for our Navy,” he wrote. He concluded his memo with “Bravo Zulu” (nautical speak for “well done”).

Ex-Mercury Bay Area School student, Connor Cawley, is a crew member of HMNZS Canterbury. He enlisted in the Navy in January 2017 with the intention to become a marine technician and was on Wednesday last week the technician aboard the Canterbury’s landing craft that attempted to take on vehicles from the Canterbury.

Twenty-one-year-old Connor, who has already been promoted to Able Rate, says the regular visits of the former HMNZS Manawanui to Mercury Bay contributed to his interest in the Navy. Whitianga was the homeport of the former Manawanui. The ship was decommissioned in February last year. “The Navy is providing me with a career,” says Connor. “I’ve had to go through 18 weeks of basic training and it took about the same amount of time to train as a marine technician. I posted onto the Canterbury in October last year and am primarily responsible for maintaining the ship’s landing craft and two RIBs.

“I have the opportunity to obtain further qualifications. The Canterbury is the first Navy ship I’m serving on and it’s a lot of fun. I really would like to urge all the Year 12 and Year 13 school students out there to consider the New Zealand Defence Force, especially the Navy, as a career option.”

Connor isn’t the only former Coromandel resident who are part of the Canterbury crew. Sub Lieutenant Tayla Cox and Able Rate Omarama (Ma) Sutcliffe are both ex-Thames High School students. Tayla enlisted in the Navy three and a half years ago. She was convinced to join by Omarama, who enlisted a year before her. Tayla and Ma have served on other Navy ships before posting onto the Canterbury. A highlight for both of them was serving together on HMNZS Endeavour (now decommissioned), the Navy’s former replenishment tanker. “One evening in southeast Asia, I was responsible for navigating the Endeavour while Ma was doing the actual steering,” says Tayla. “That was pretty cool.”

Tayla is part of the Canterbury’s watch team, while Ma, who initially trained as a hydrographer, is part of the ship’s logistics team. “That’s one of the great things of the Navy, you have the ability switch careers,” say Ma. “I didn’t enjoy marine surveying, but absolutely love what I’m doing now.”

OP HIKI ANO will conclude towards the middle of this month. To Connor, Tayla and Ma -congratulations with your careers in the Navy. Bravo Zulu.

Pictured: Ex-Mercury Area School student, Connor Cawley participated the last few weeks in several amphibious landing exercises at Cooks beach as part the crew of HMNZS Canterbury.

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