- Town/City: Tauranga
- Bike: BMW R100GS, Ducati Mark 3 250 narrow case
Posting on behalf of Auckland Council Regional Parks Principal Ranger Stephen Bell.
The beach can’t take anymore…
Muriwai Beach, Te Oneone Rangatira, is a magnificent beach. In its day, Auckland Regional Council had the forethought to establish a regional park at Muriwai which, with over one million visitors in 2019/20, is busier than any other Auckland Regional Park. Like most who are part of the local community, your regional park team love Muriwai. It is an extraordinary place, with a very involved community, (some more than others), and a committed Surf Life Saving club who do a fantastic job, provide awesome training opportunities for club members who have saved a lot of lives over the years. Long may that continue.
I am sure there are different values you each cherish about the beach and community and it is those values that keeps you living here and connected. We, as park rangers, try our best to look after those values. For us they are the natural space, environment and it’s native inhabitants, the raw power and beauty of the wild west coast, the black sand (except on those really hot summer days) and looking after the place so you and others can enjoy it. The surf is not too bad either. You may each have a view on how well we do this, but if you talk with any one of the rangers you will hear their passion and commitment.
There are a couple of things we really need your help with to preserve those values. I am going to touch on two. Dogs in places they should not be or off lead and vehicles on the beach.
For the dog conversation, as much as we would all like to point the finger at people from outside the area we all know that would not be true, as most of the people walking dogs at the Maukatia / Gannet Colony, or off lead in the park proper / south of the tower, are locals. Please just follow the rules, they are pretty simple and clear. A lot of people have committed countless hours to protecting our Gannets, Blue Penguins and other species, mainly with pest control work. All it takes is one dog to disturb a nest or kill the adult bird and that has a big ripple in a small population. So, our request, particularly about walking dogs in the Maukatika area, is STOP. Please just don’t do it. For those who ignore the rules, it comes across as entitled and disrespectful of one of the very places we all value so highly.
Dogs are one thing, but the really big issue is vehicles on beaches. The numbers used to be manageable, drivers were respectful of other beach users (in the main) and they stuck to the beach. Our older population remember it that way anyway.
While many drivers remain responsible, an increasing number are not. They blatantly break the law, show no regard for other beach users, and create significant damage to the back dunes including some very significantly threatened environments and species. Do you know that the easiest way to find the largest remaining population of regionally threatened Coprosma Acerosa (Sand Coprosma – a coastal shrub) is to follow the vehicle tracks, as they go right through the shrub areas. We have a unique (and recently discovered) gecko (still to be named) that only lives in the Muriwai back dune and threatened skinks among our local wildlife. I have included an aerial photo to show the damage that is being done in areas where vehicles are meant to be prohibited. They make this unique, vehicle prohibited areas look like a road map. I won’t start on illegal camping or fires this time but will come back to that later.
Photo 1: Aerials of damage done by vehicles in an area vehicle are prohibited
We have had ongoing, regular problems with drivers crashing into others, vehicles being rolled, significant injuries even fatalities, the ignoring of private property rights in the forest, doing significant damage, abusing other beach users and rangers and bringing purpose built vehicles to the beach specifically to use in the back dunes. A recent quote from one such driver was, ‘I have spent a lot of money on these so I will drive them where I want’.
During the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown we closed the beach, including Wilson Road, to all vehicle traffic. I know it got up a few people’s noses, but it was necessary. Te Oneone Rangatira / Muriwai breathed just for a moment, but at least it was allowed to rest.
As soon as Level 2 came about we reopened Coast Road. The huge increase in what can only be described as idiotic driver behaviour is extremely disappointing. It felt like people had saved it up and wanted to get it all out at the same time. Unfortunately, it has just kept going and appears to be getting worse
If we want to look after this magnificent place that we love, we need to take more care. Whether that is us, as a community, demanding people drive where they are meant to and holding them to account when they don’t, or by controlling vehicle access to the beach through a pass or gate system, or both, only time will tell. But one thing is certain, from what I have seen the beach has had enough, it can’t take anymore, and things need to change.
How can you help:
Don’t walk your dog’s where you shouldn’t, keep them on leads where that is required and pick up after them.
Don’t put up with reckless drivers on the beach. If you feel safe to do so, tell them to stop or report it to Police. Try 111 if it is dangerous and still happening or 105 or *555 if it is over. All are quick to dial.
Principal Ranger, Regional Parks West
19 July 2020