The latest with the Lyell

Kaikōura's Waikōau/Lyell Creek catchment has seen major improvements in water quality, biodiversity and mahinga kai values over the past 60-70 years through continued community action to protect and enhance these values.

Waikōau/Lyell Creek flows from springs, fed via groundwater from the alpine braided river of the Kowhai.

Meandering across the pastural landscape and lifestyle blocks of the Kaikōura Flats it greets residents along Beach Road, runs parallel with State Highway 1 (SH1), then through the central business area of West End.

At the coast, Waikōau forms a dynamic river mouth/hāpua and ends up in Kaikōura's ocean - Te Tai o Marokura. It has important mahinga kai, and wider cultural, recreational, and visual amenity values worth protecting and enhancing.

Community action to enhance

In 2012, the Kaikōura Water Zone Committee made the Waikōau a priority, with efforts to improve the water quality at the forefront. Through increased commitment from the local community, schools, staff, businesses and other organisations, the stream has seen great improvements in recent years.

Committee chair Ted Howard said the lower Lyell is now a space that can be enjoyed by all.

"It's a great place for the community; birds, fish and insects can thrive in it, and it provides a way for locals to connect with their natural environment," he said.

"It wasn't always like this, so it's great to be able to look back on decades of past actions and see how over time, people and place have been connected, with outstanding outcomes to improving such a central waterway."

More does need to be done, and keeping the community connected to the stream - including youth - is one of the keys to keeping water quality trending upward in Waikōau.

Restoration and enhancement of Waikōau supports the committee's action plan.

Whole catchment recovery

In 2017, the post-quake Kaikōura Plains Recovery Project carried out a stream walk along Waikōau/Lyell Creek and its connected drains, to collect information on the post-quake state and health of the catchment.

The survey helped identify hot spots for action and went on to form two reports (issues and recommendations) that were compiled by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

These reports helped provide the information needed for a whole catchment recovery approach with staff continuing to use the reports from KPRP's work to guide restoration activities in the catchment today. The stream walk approach is now being used as a template for other catchment projects in Kaikōura.

A stormwater filtering system and some cultural artwork has also been established at the public reserve by SH1, to raise awareness of stormwater impacts on the creek, and the cultural importance of the area.

Lower catchment restoration ongoing

The lower Lyell section of this catchment runs from the mouth of the Waikōau through West End to a public reserve on the northern side of the SH1 bridge.

Planting in the public reserve was carried out more than 10 years ago, as one of the zone committees' first projects. Further natives have been added more recently, and there's now a well-established juvenile forest with species such as kānuka, tarata (lemonwood), tōtara, kahikatea, houhere (narrow-leafed lacebark) and tī kōuka (cabbage tree).

"This reserve is shaping up to be a rich outdoor classroom, and a place of quiet contemplation, for people to connect with the awa and continue traditions of mahinga kai," our land management and biodiversity advisor Heath Melville said.

"Over the last 10 or so years there's been ongoing weed control, numerous community stream and beach clean-ups and educational opportunities in the lower Lyell area," he said.

Next steps - Waikōau connection

Illustration of Waikōau planting concept

Waikōau connection concept plans

Concept plans have been developed for the public reserve adjacent to I-Site, building on the last 10 years of mahi in the lower catchment. Valuable input from Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura has led to a greater emphasis on mahinga kai and rewilding.

Plans show what the lower Waikōau/Lyell Creek could eventually look like with the establishment of harakeke, toetoe, cabbage trees/tī kōuka, tōtara and rōhutu as well as important rongoā/traditional Māori medicine species such as koromiko and kawakawa.

All these different species of plants will increase the ecological and visual richness of the area and encourage local connections to the stream, while showcasing the plethora of plant species in Kaikōura's coastal riparian environments. Many of which having mahinga kai values, such as kai, rongoā, and habitat for taonga species.

"It's really about haumanu - restoration and revitalization of one of our awa. The significance around the revitalisation of the area, moving into more native and authentic surroundings means the proliferation of native species, which can only enhance the cultural significance of the area. Also, there is a strong connection between Takahanga and this area, just down the hill from our Marae. It's all part of our Pa," said Lorraine Hawke, chair of the Environmental Pou of Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura.

Community involvement celebrated and encouraged

"Through working with Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura, Innovative Waste Kaikōura, the Love the Lyell Group, Te Hā o Mātauranga, Kaikōura District Council, the Kaikōura Water Zone Committee and our local schools, we're seeing some real kotahitanga, or unity, for this awa, the benefits of which are becoming more visible every year," Heath said.

Community feedback on the plan is welcome.

You can send feedback via email or phone:

03 319 5781

Middle catchment focus for now

While work will continue in the lower catchment, staff are connecting with local schools and a neighbouring landowner bordering the middle catchment - from the SH1 bridge and public reserve, north, past the main residential area that borders the creek along Beach Road.

The next phase of this mahi is to enhance the esplanade reserve directly upstream of the Kaikōura District Council Wildlife Reserve, above the SH1 bridge.

"We're keen to keep connecting with the wider community, to encourage actions from landowners, community groups and businesses to protect and enhance the stream," Heath said.

"If you've got ideas, let us know and we can help you protect your patch along the Lyell."

Community planting supports connection

More recently, six small-scale planting sessions at the two public reserves were held with local schools, the community, and Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura.

"It's great connecting different groups to the awa where they can return anytime and see the progress for themselves. Revisiting areas where whānau may have helped with planting or picked up rubbish, we hope to strengthen connections to our environment and community through putting in the mahi as a collective," Heath said.

"With more people seeing improvements to the catchment, and rangatahi sharing their experiences with friends and whānau, more people will get involved, getting out there for some fresh air and some physical mahi, for their own well-being as well as for that of the environment," Heath said.

Planting sessions have been held with Hāpuku Kura, St Joseph's School, Kaikōura Primary School, and the Creation Care Study Program, working with the maramataka lunar calendar for optimal planting conditions, with at least one more session planned for October.

Feature image: Planting day with Te Rūnanga and community. On the left: Kevin Heays, Ian Kearns, Keefe Robinson-Gore, Greg Webber, Ted Howard, Levi Sutton (front, doing the peace sign), Teone Manawatu, Savannah Manawatu, Parata Hawke and Ataahua Richardson (with the watering can).