Cape Coast ecological diversity

Although Cape Kidnappers (Te Kauwae-a-Maui) often gets all the attention as one of the largest inland gannet colonies in the world, the wider Cape Coast and environs is reclaiming and restoring its own richly diverse and often understated ecology and wildlife.

The Cape Coast is home to many varieties of nesting and migrating birds that settle in the wetlands and lagoons and the gravelly bushed areas from Clifton to the villages of Haumoana and Te Awanga and north of the Tukituki River. Over many decades, the HB County Council and latterly the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council built steep stop banks to protect and develop the surrounding inlets, swamp and wetlands and ensure the Tukituki River didn’t spill over into neighbouring farmland or Haumoana village. Now attention is shifting to the south of the Tukituki through Hastings District Council’s million dollar, 10-year Cape Coast Reserve Management Plan. The goal is to restore the rich ecological diversity and complete the green belt between the Cape Kidnappers and the Ocean Beach Nature Preserve in the south and the Waitangi Reserve in the north.

The 43 hectare estuary behind the shingle bar of the Tukituki river mouth and the adjoining Waitangi Estuary and are classified as a ‘significant area’ for breeding fish and birdlife.

Rare gulls protected In 2017 a rare breeding colony of tarapuka (black billed gulls) had settled on the northern side of the Tukituki river mouth about 700 metres away from public access. The colony then consisted of 300 nests, believed to be the largest in the North Island.

The gulls were considered one of the most threatened gull species in the world with numbers depleted by up to 80% resulting in the threat status being upgraded to critical in 2013. Traps were set to protect them from feral cats and other predators.

Along the waterfront between Beach Rd and the beach itself are two interconnecting lagoons scooped out through a massive inundation when the Tukituki River burst its banks in the 1897 flood. Just south of this is a long thin wetland inside the main beach crest.

Between the well protected wetlands and lagoon of East Clive and the lagoons and wetlands of Haumoana you will find scores of black swans, pied stilts, bittern, godwits and a dozen or more white royal spoonbill herons. The spoonbills fly south to roost and nest in the treetops of Okarito in the west coast of the South Island in the winter and return each year. Unseen the last couple of seasons (2019-20) is a lone kotuku (white heron) which returned each year, despite losing its mate in the late 90s. Bountiful birdlife Apart from the growing number of tui and woodpigeons are shags, grey herons, little egrets, bitterns, paradise, mallard and grey ducks, pukeko, black backed gulls, red billed gulls, white headed pied stilts, white fronted terns, kingfishers and welcome swallows. There’s also a large family of duck and geese who have made their home in the main lagoon and even have their own sign warning motorists to slow down in case they’re trying to cross the road.

There’s ongoing concern among locals that some of the nesting areas for this diverse range of birdlife are disturbed by people walking their dogs without leashes and the careless use of trail bikes and quad bikes on the gravelly perimeter of the lagoon and wetland, particularly at breeding time. While the number of local lizards or skinks used to be plentiful, particularly around the mingimingi bushes in Haumoana and Te Awanga their numbers appear to have depleted considerably in recent years through the actions of domestic cats.

The tidal estuaries of the Tukituki inlet which nudge along the perimeter of Haumoana to the south of the river are a breeding ground for inanga, a species of whitebait which spend the first part of their life at sea but they mature and spawn in freshwater during late summer and autumn. Their eggs take about a month to hatch and the larvae then use the high tide to be carried out to sea.

Spawning ground Then three to six months later they return to the rivers and “run the gauntlet of whitebaiters” in August to September. Those that survive grow in low rivers and wetlands before returning to start the cycle again spawning near the river mouth.

“Inunga spawn where freshwater meets seawater, on small, very sensitive sites in the lower Tukituki, Clive, Tutaekuri and Ngaororo rivers. Their eggs spend most of the time out of water in the high tide area, and need streamside vegetation to keep moist and to be protected from harmful UV light,” says the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council signage near the bridge on the Haumoana side across the wetland to the Blackbridge cycletrack.

“Inanga don’t do so well where there has been damage to streamside plants. Draining wetlands removes the places where adult and young inanga might live. Barriers to their migration like weirs, culverts and pump station stop their life cycle. If we want more whitebait we need to look after our waterways,” urges the signage

The Waitangi Regional Park which begins at the the tidal estuary of the Tukituki River and continues on through Waipureku (East Clive) on through the Atea o Te Rangi (Star Compass) on the northern side where the Clive, Ngaruroro and Tutaekuri rivers merge. The park itself covers 300 hectares from the boundaries of Napier north has been identified at one of the top ten wetlands in Hawke’s Bay and the estuary area an important whitebait spawning ground supporting many fish and bird species.

The whole area has huge environmental, recreational and historical significance. The Takitimu waka landed at Waitangi bringing the first Maori navigators and settlers to Heretaunga around 1000 years ago. One of the sons of the paramount chief Kahungunu also came to Heretaunga through this gateway. There was an important pa at Waitangi in the 1800s and in the early 1840s the first permanent European settlers in Hawke’s Bay, missionaries William and Elizabeth Colenso, established their mission station near the grounds of what is today the Hohepa Homes Community.

Sources Rex Graham interview with Mark Story, HB Today October 1, 2016 Background to the Regional Coastal Environment Plan (July 2008) which became operative on 8 November 2014

Huge colony of rare tarāpuka discovered at Tukituki River, Hawke's Bay, Andre Chumko, Stuff,12 Jan, 2018 HBRC signage near the Haumoana pump station

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