The Ōhiwa Harbour is a large shallow estuary situated 11 kilometres east of Whakatāne and 16 kilometres west of Ōpōtiki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
The harbour is one of New Zealand's most unspoiled and the area has long been special to many people for many reasons. It is home to a multitude of marsh and shore birds, shellfish and fish species. Boating, sightseeing, swimming, water sports, shellfish gathering and fishing are all extremely popular with locals and visitors who appreciate its landscapes, natural beauty, water quality, recreational activities, heritage places and values, clean air and productive land.
The catchment extends far inland into the upper reaches of the Nukuhou River. Gentle undulating ground turns to steep hills and a multitude of peninsulas, spurs and gullies form a convoluted harbour edge dotted with salt-marshes, wetlands and mudflats.
The inner harbour is protected to the northwest by the Ōhope spit and to the northeast by the Ōhiwa spit and dunes system. There are 10 small islands in the harbour and many channels and sandbanks that shift and meander with the tides and seasons.
The harbour surrounds an area with a mix of native vegetation, exotic forestry, horticulture and pasture with many lifestyle blocks, clusters of houses and baches and the large residential area of Ōhope.
Issues and community values
We have identified Ōhiwa Harbour as an area of significant natural heritage value due to its ecological, natural character and landscape values. Areas of the estuarine margins and multiple islands within the harbour are protected by legislation and several locations are listed as wetland protection areas.
Development and recreational activities in the harbour and catchment, with protection or enhancement of natural and cultural values, is the greatest challenge faced by the area. It is very important that activities which occur within the Ōhiwa Harbour and catchment are carefully managed to ensure that the quality of the environment of Ōhiwa Harbour and catchment is maintained. In 2008, Council created the Ōhiwa Harbour Strategy (OHS), a guiding document, in partnership with the Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne District Councils, Department of Conservation, Whakatohea, Upokorehe, Ngāti Awa and Tūhoe.
Themes and values from the OHS include:
- Health of the estuary.
- Recreation values.
- Managing development pressures.
- Natural areas, plants and animals.
- A more informed community.
The partners work collectively and individually to plan and take action for the management, protection and enhancement of the Harbour. The community also plays an important role in this work. Landowners and managers, and care groups have made, and continue to make, an enormous difference to the long-term health of the Harbour and its catchment.
Ōhiwa Harbour management
The Ōhiwa Harbour Strategy Coordination Group (OHSCG) is made up of representatives from the OHS partner organisations and meets four times each year. OHSCG members tend to work 'at the coal face' in their organisations, planning and managing the work that is relevant to caring for the Ōhiwa Harbour.
Overseeing this work and providing project governance is the Ōhiwa Harbour Implementation Forum (OHIF). OHIF members tend to be politicians or elected representatives from each of the OHS partner organisations. OHIF meets twice each year.
Monitoring the harbour's health
Bugs, bats, birds, bush…and water quality.
A number of agencies and groups are responsible for carrying out ecological and water quality monitoring in and around the Ōhiwa Harbour. The ecological monitoring programme assesses such things as bats, invertebrates, threatened plants, native vegetation, marsh birds, freshwater fish and whitebait.
The environmental monitoring programme has shown that water quality in the Ōhiwa Harbour is slowly improving, with a reduction in the amount of nutrients entering the harbour. While great news, erosion in the catchment is still bringing too much sediment into the harbour and more work remains to be done to address this issue. For up to date data about the Nukuhou River, visit the LAWA (Land, Air, Water Aotearoa) website (see below).
Sustainable land management
Riparian management, which is the care and protection of the banks or margins of a waterway, is of vital importance in the Ōhiwa Harbour. Erosion of stream and river banks can cause sediment and nutrients to enter the Harbour, affecting its water quality and biodiversity.
Impact of stock in the Harbour
Stock in the Harbour or catchment stream margins has a real impact on how much sediment enters the Harbour. Council has worked hard for many years to exclude stock from these places.
A number of catchment streams flow into the Harbour and fencing work is on-going to protect them from stock access. Most of the 28.8 kilometres of Ōhiwa Harbour catchment’s stream margins are fenced or planted to prevent stock access. Protection work is also underway on the 146.5 kilometres of the Nukuhou River and its tributaries.