The Waikākāriki Wetland restoration

Nestled between State Highway One and the railway line at Paekākāriki, is a 1.6 hectare sliver of land that, with the help of Ngā Uruora and community volunteers, is emerging from invasive weeds to shine as an ecological treasure.

Project by Paekākāriki School students, Ana Vieira and Audrey Moss-Kennedy.
Images and excerpts from Up the River by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud.

The Waikākāriki Stream runs through the centre of this land, where it joins with an unnamed tributary from the south. The Waikākāriki Stream then passes under the railway and meets the sea close to the Ames Street beach access. The Waikākāriki Wetland also contains a spring, which flows out from under State Highway One and joins with the unnamed tributary.

Wetlands are ecological hotspots, but unfortunately, over 90% of New Zealand’s original wetlands have been lost – drained for agricultural or urban use. In the Wellington region only 2.3% of the original extent of wetlands that stretched from Paekākāriki to the Manawatū remain. Our current bowling green was once part of this ‘great swamp.’ 

Wetlands are also culturally important for Māori. Not only are they highly productive as food sources, they also provide a range of fibres used for housing, fishing and clothing. Kāpiti wetlands were also used for transport, and it is reported that waka used to travel from Paekākāriki through to Foxton via the wetlands that sat behind the dunes, such was their vastness.   

Boat afloat on site of bowling green at Paekakariki, 1902, Alexander Turnbull Library Collection

Ngā Uruora’s interest in the Waikākāriki Wetland goes back to the early 2000s when Fergus Wheeler laid copious amounts of carpet in the area in an effort to suppress weeds. Other projects soon beckoned, and over the next 15 to 20 years the weeds crept back.

The opening of the Paekākāriki Escarpment Track in 2016 and the associated increase in parking pressure along Ames Street led to discussions around an alternative connection from the village centre. Paul Callister had established a trap line in the Waikākāriki Wetland area in 2015 and we knew that with some development it could form an access track. So Ngā Uruora developed a rough plan.

Luckily, at a Paekākāriki Community Board discussion about this problem, both the board and KCDC saw the merits of our idea. Once some funding was secured it was all happening and in July 2017 the first portion of the connector track was completed, although funding constraints meant that the second portion of the track wasn’t completed for another year. 

The second portion of the track. May 2018. Photo: KCDC.

Ngā Uruora discussed planting the track sides in winter 2018, but decided we already had enough to do and this would be stretching ourselves too thinly. However, we didn’t stop thinking about the track, and in July 2019 we couldn’t help ourselves! We used some leftover plants from another project to plant the southern end of the connector track. 

Tor Gibson, July 2019 and May 2020 at the south end of the connecter track. Photos: Ollie Gibson

Shortly after this, the Waikākāriki Wetland Weed Whackers was formed to start taking care of the masses of weeds. The first working bee was held in August 2019. The main target weed species at the site are blackberry, blue morning glory, kikuyu grass, monkey apple, nasturtium, periwinkle, climbing asparagus, tuber ladder fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia), brush wattle, tradescantia, arum lily, greater bindweed/convolvulus, and cape ivy. We have our work cut out for us!

The first Weed Whackers working bee. August 2019. Photo: Peter Kentish

What at first appeared like a weed-filled wasteland slowly began to reveal its beauty and ecological value. 

Indicative of the huge amount of weed material removed already from the area. Waikākāriki Stream. January 2020, February 2020 and June 2020. Photos: Andy McKay

The area contains the southernmost natural extent of whau (Entelea arborescens). This was especially important for early Māori who used the extremely light and buoyant wood for fishing floats. 

Native plants present include species already common in our area : ti kōuka, whau, pohutakawa, karaka, kōwhai, raupo, harakeke, taupata, karamu, titoki, kohekohe, coastal tree daisy, koromiko, Carex secta, manuka and kanuka. However, we are now reintroducing more wetland and forest plants that would have once been likely in this area. These include miro, mātai, kahikatea, swamp maire, puketea, milktrees, ribbonwood, and totara. We are especially grateful to the Paekākākariki Community Board for providing funding for one hundred Carex secta to be bought which have now been planted. 

Native animals present include kōura / freshwater crayfish, banded kokopu, red finned bully, long-finned eel, inanga, tui, korimako, piwakawaka and kereru. 

This area is also significant because it contains a number of very large ti kōuka / cabbage trees, possibly planted by Paekākāriki resident and founder of Forest and Bird, Captain Val Sanderson sometime in the 1920s or 30s.

Red finned bully, Waikākāriki Stream. Photo: Andy McKay

Recently, local students Audrey (9) and Ana (10) put together this amazing project on the Waikākāriki Wetland, using images and excerpts from Up the River by Pukerua Bay resident Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud. They presented their project to the Community Board this month and everyone was very impressed!

Audrey visited the wetland earlier this year help out the Weed Whackers and also planted some Carex secta along the stream. 

Planting Carex secta along the spring stream. June 2020. Photo: Andy McKay

Volunteer numbers fluctuate between five and 20 people. We can always use more help! The site is flat and easily accessible from Paekākāriki Village or the end of Ames Street and is child friendly (with a minder). We are hugely grateful to all the volunteer hours that have gone into this project and it is exciting to see how much of a positive change we have made already. With wetlands a highly endangered ecosystem in the Wellington region this is a highly worthwhile project to get involved in!  Visit here for further information or email us.

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