After flowing west from the Tararuas the Waikawa Stream makes a sudden southward turn about 400 metres from shore. It meanders parallel to the coast for another 1.5 Km then exits from the throat onto the inlet sand where it makes a lazy loop before actually reaching the sea at Waikawa Beach.
Depending on the tide, that creates a sandy, watery playground of about 16 hectares, enjoyed by all.
When you live on the coast though you quickly learn that wind and tide shape your life. That inlet area is fickle — there are times when a full river, a high tide and a driving westerly fill the whole area with water.
Back in 1872 the Waikawa Stream joined with the Ōhau around 2 Km to the north. In 1942, on the other hand, it flowed south 1.5 Km from its current location, before joining the Waiorongomai Stream to enter the sea.
The inexorable power of ex-tropical Cyclone Gita in February 2018 eroded a huge amount of sand and changed the course of the river across the inlet, cutting off vehicle access to the beach. After much discussion between the Waikawa Beach Ratepayers Association, Horowhenua District Council and Horizons Regional Council a high-angle groyne was removed, and a river channel cut to reshape the flow.
In the 6 months since, the river has stayed away from the dunes it previously eroded. Vehicle access has been restored, and wind and tide have even brought back a little of the sand that had been lost.
We thank the Miratana family for allowing folks to cross their private land in order to access the beach.
One local community member is able to provide the Ratepayers Association with high-resolution drone photos of the river mouth. We now get a photo every few months which helps us track exactly what’s going on with the river and the sand at the mouth. We hope that when there are problems in future we’ll be able to use this resource to make a case for action.
Even if we don’t need the photos for that purpose, it’s wonderful to be able to watch the development of our own local community.
Originally published in Ōtaki Today, December 2019, page 21.