Dune and dusted

Trailbikes are ripping up our fragile dunes; maybe it’s time to ban all motorbikes from the beach.

Waikawa Beach has many wonderful sand dunes. There’s the privately owned land across the footbridge, the whole area north to Kuku Beach and the area to the south of the river and down to the boundary with Kapiti and beyond.

Sand dune by the estuary.
Sand dune by the estuary.

Some, or maybe all, of the dunes are eroding as wind and tides take their toll, like the area just to the north of the vehicle entrance which has lost several metres in the last year or two.

Eroding dunes by the vehicle entrance.
Eroding dunes by the vehicle entrance. Spot the sagging fence posts.

That erosion is an issue the Ratepayers Association is currently discussing with affected landowners, the Horowhenua District Council, Horizons Regional Council and other interested parties.

Waikawa Beach has long been part of a road connecting Whanganui with Wellington. In earlier times it was where the stagecoach ran, along with drovers, farmers taking produce for sale, settlers moving to new homes, swaggers and pedlers. See Spanking down the level beach, in a horse-drawn coach for an excerpt from a historical account.

The beach is still a road.
The beach is still a road.

Like any road, though, there are rules, including not driving carelessly. And the one about where you may drive on the beach: below the latest high tide mark, and absolutely not on the dunes.

Waikawa Beach vehicle entry sign: no vehicles on the dunes.
Waikawa Beach vehicle entry sign: no vehicles on the dunes.

Thanks to motorbikes in the dunes on the private land north of the river the Council installed bike bars at the footbridge. Some say those bars haven’t worked to keep bikes out, while others find they cause quite an annoyance to people legitimately trying to cross the bridge.

By now you can guess where this blog post is going, I’m sure …

Trailbikes on the beach, 10 July 2017, 1.30 pm.
Trailbikes on the beach, 10 July 2017, 1.30 pm.

I suspect that the motorbikes are finding the bike bars a disincentive as now riders come through the vehicle entrance and down to the sensitive area of new dunes where the north entrance from Reay Mackay Grove exits onto the beach.

We hear the bikes roaring around on the sand, and next day we see proof that they didn’t stick to the area below the high tide mark. Instead they do circuits in the area where the dunes are most sensitive to damage, most vulnerable.

Trailbike tracks by the north entrance, 23 August 2017 at 08:35.
Trailbike tracks by the north entrance, 23 August 2017 at 08:35.

Locals have taken to carting large chunks of driftwood and placing them in spots intended to deter the riders. It’s a huge area to cover and hard work. Some of the results are very impressive, and quite effective.

Blocking bikes from the dunes with driftwood.
Blocking bikes from the dunes with driftwood.

But then the riders change the nature of their sport, seeming almost to deliberately seek out all the most fragile dunes and ride right over the tops of them, scouring huge gouges in the sand and getting right to the roots of the vegetation.

Trailbikes gouge the fragile dunes. Photo 23 August 2017 08:51.
Trailbikes gouge the fragile dunes. Photo 23 August 2017 08:51.

Trailbikes gouge the fragile dunes detail. Photo 23 August 2017 08:51..
Trailbikes gouge the fragile dunes — detail. Photo 23 August 2017 08:51.

It’s heartbreaking to come to the end of the track from Reay Mackay Grove and see deep tire marks all round, all over the dunes, knowing that every single attack weakens the dune, makes it more vulnerable to wind, rain and tide.

Once one person tears it up doing a few laps and donuts, then others take it as free rein.

That quote from Vehicles turn Waikawa camp to mud sums it up. The result in the end is that our dunes erode and disappear. Just a few kilometres up the road such riders have created a muddy morass. Our dunes won’t turn to mud, but they’ll blow away if we don’t care for them.

A popular camping ground in Horowhenua has been turned into a muddy morass by drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles, quad and dirt bikes, raising local fears of an accident waiting to happen.

The Waikawa Stream Recreational Reserve at the end of Manakau North Rd, part of the Tararua Forest Park, has had a campsite for more than 30 years. The back campsite is now almost unrecognisable as a once-pristine camping area.

Vehicles have seriously damaged land at the Waikawa Stream Recreation Reserve campsite
Vehicles have seriously damaged land at the Waikawa Stream Recreation Reserve campsite
Linton Menzies, a regular campsite user, has seen drivers tearing up the site and been threatened, even having a gun pointed at him when he’s tried to intervene.

Down at Kapiti all motorbikes are banned from the beach. Perhaps we could make that happen here.

Kapiti ban motorbikes from the beach.
Kapiti ban motorbikes from the beach.

If you see trailbikes heading for our beach stay safe, but if you can, remind the riders they must stay below the high tide mark and keep their speed down. Taking photos of riders who go onto the dunes may help us work out who’s doing this and find ways to prevent them from doing it in future.

Story and all photos by Miraz Jordan.

Sharp surprises in the sand

It must be visitors leaving dangerous items on the beach, in the embers of their illegal fires. How can we get beach visitors to enjoy themselves but leave our beach as they found it?

Our beach is a treasure where barefooted children run along the sand, as do dogs and horses too. So the last thing anyone wants to find in their foot is a fiercely toothed knife, half buried, or a pair of rusty tongs, a partly burned tin can or a dinner fork.

A few months back while walking the dogs at the south end of the beach I found the remains of a picnic, buried metal dinner fork and all. It took a while to pick up the scattered paper plates, paper towels and other garbage.

Then this week it was the remains of an illegal fire, with the fiercest toothed dinner knife I’ve ever seen waiting for an unwary foot. Closer to the fire were a pair of rusty tongs, and in the embers the jagged remains of a drink can and sundry other rubbish.

Wicked sharp knife in the sand.
Wicked sharp knife in the sand. Look at the teeth on that thing!

Serrations waiting to stab a bare foot.
Serrations waiting to stab a bare foot.

Unfortunately it’s not too uncommon to find this kind of dangerous stuff on the beach. It seems some people see our beach as their rubbish bin, and there is no obvious way to stop such bad behaviour. It’s simply not a credible idea that those who live here or visit most weekends would treat the beach like this.

So, what can we do? Signs seem to have little effect, though a no fires on the beach sign, like this one at Te Horo, could be useful. And, while we’re at it, a 10 Kph speed sign would be a good thing.

Te Horo beach signs.
Te Horo beach signs.

Photos by Miraz Jordan.

Perhaps those property owners who let others use their place sometimes could also offer some guidance to their visitors, along the lines of:

  • no fires
  • take rubbish away
  • no motor vehicles above the latest high tide mark
  • drive slowly on the beach
  • watch out for people, dogs and horses.

Any thoughts on how we can get other beach visitors to enjoy themselves but leave our beach as they found it?

Beach fire remains with rusty tongs and partly burned drink can.
Beach fire remains with rusty tongs and partly burned drink can.

An unexpected seal visit in July 2017

A rare Crabeater Seal turned up on Waikawa Beach in July 2017, but had to be euthanised.

If you keep your eyes open you may see a seal on Waikawa Beach, especially at this time of year. Sometimes they’re alive and well, though unfortunately sometimes they’re dead. There was an 80 cm long seal on the beach near the Waiorongomai Stream earlier this month, for example, while the photo with this post shows a healthy seal resting on driftwood on Waikawa Beach in May 2015.

DOC say:

Seals are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Adult seals can move surprisingly quickly on land. While they can look harmless, seals can inflict serious injuries to dogs or people and can carry infectious diseases.

See below for tips about seals on beaches.

On 16 July 2017 a rare Crabeater Seal turned up on Waikawa Beach and the person who found it said it was wriggling around and looked as though it was in pain so she called the Department of Conservation who several days later euthanised it.

Rare crabeater seal washed up at Waikawa Beach euthanised says:

The crabeater seal, usually found in Antarctica, is recorded by Te Papa as the ninth to have ever made it to New Zealand shores.

By Thursday, Toogood [DOC Manawatu acting operations manager] said the seal was “very emaciated, and showed no indication that it was willing or able to return to the sea”, so it was euthanised. …

DOC Manawatu ranger Kelly Hancock said seals would sometimes lie on the beach for days before heading back to the ocean and it was common for them to look emaciated during the colder months.

Seals frequently washed up on beaches in winter as they provided a safe and warm refuge from the ocean, Hancock said.

Crabeater Seal on Waikawa Beach, photo by Claudia Eustace.
Crabeater Seal on Waikawa Beach. Photo submitted by by Claudia Eustace. Twitter: @ClaudiaEustace.

Project Jonah has some tips for us about seals on beaches:

By understanding the unusual quirks and habits of seals, we’re much better placed to help these animals when they really are in need.

  • Vomiting, sneezing or coughing? This is normal behaviour. The seal's probably getting rid of undigested food like squid beaks and fragments of fish bone.
  • Crying?  Seals don't have tear ducts. Those weepy eyes aren't damp with tears, what you see is just normal moisture secretion.
  • Alone?  Young seals will often spend days at a time alone, while their mothers forage at sea for food. Young seals will wait for their mothers to return so that they can then suckle and feed. It's best not to move these animals as this will create confusion and stress for the mother and pup.
  • Dead at sea? A sea-sleeping seal floats on its side.
  • Flappings its flippers in the air as if stranded? Seals don’t beach like whales or dolphins. The seal is trying to cool off.
  • Lifeless on land? Lying down and resting is a favourite past time of seals on land.
  • Fighting? Territorial wrangles are common during the breeding season, when males challenge each other for superiority.
This healthy seal was resting on driftwood on Waikawa Beach in May 2015.
This healthy seal was resting on driftwood on Waikawa Beach in May 2015.

Post updated 22 July 2017 to add photo of the seal, submitted by Claudia Eustace. Thanks, Claudia!