In the earliest times of course, the dunes of Waikawa Beach were covered with native plants. They were perfectly adapted for the climate and conditions: fierce westerlies, stormy tides, cold and hot, wet and dry.
Then came people who cleared the land. They planted marram to hold the sand long enough to put in exotic forests. But the marram thrives at the expense of native species such as pīngao and spinifex. Marram doesn’t much like salt water and creates steep rather than extensive dunes. Native plants make lower dunes that also reach closer to the sea.
Most years the Horowhenua District Council invest about $5,000 into Waikawa Beach, buying spinifex and pīngao — around 3,500 plants. Locals (and some generous off-duty Council workers) gather together and plant out areas of the dunes. It’s a great community activity — an opportunity to work together to create something of enormous value. After all, we’re enhancing, even enlarging our land area, protecting it from erosion and helping to shelter the community from wind-blown sand.
The other benefit is that because the labour is free, the Council can buy more plants.
And so, a year to the day from the previous planting, a dozen or so folks gathered at the end of September with spades and goodwill to plant out 500 pīngao and about 3,000 spinifex. The turnout was lower than in
2019 2018 but spirits were high. Dig in a spade, wiggle it around to make a hole, then insert the plant — good and deep so the roots get into the cooler, damper sand — then tuck the plant in firmly. Next!
We didn’t get all the plants in the ground that day, but over the following week various people planted out more, and then on the first Sunday in October another dozen or more willing volunteers gathered for a final push. Within the hour the remaining 500 or so plants were tucked into place.
Interesting was that during the week several trays had been covered by windblown sand a good couple of centimetres thick. There can be much more sand blowing about than you realise.
Thanks to the Horowhenua District Council, the Council staff who helped out on their own time, and the volunteers from the community. Waikawa Beach is growing — in the best way.
Originally published in Ōtaki Today, October 2019, page 22.