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Papahikahawai Island restoration

Salt marsh safe-haven

Papahikahawai Island in Te Awa o Ngatoroirangi (Maketū Estuary) is being restored as a safe-haven and breeding ground for fish and native wildlife. It's a joint project between the landowners, Regional Council, Ngā Whenua Rāhui, tangata whenua,and the local community.

Project overview

Papahikahawai lagoon before and after comparison

The Papahikahawai Island restoration project involves three key actions:

  1. Removal of two causeways which were blocking tidal flows between Maketū spit and the island since 1963. This was completed in June 2016 and a bridge has been constructed to maintain access. See image above and video below.
  2. Stop bank removal and re-shaping of the southern shoreline of the island to establish a more natural connection between the island and the estuary (completed September 2017).  
  3. Planting of 50,000 native plants across 15 hectares of previously grazed land, to restore native scrub, shrub land, and wetland habitats. This began in 2015 and will continue along with ongoing weed and animal pest control in the coming years. See before and after concept drawings below.

Project news

  • Aerial view of project area - August 2018 - see video below


Project background

The 15 hectare island was once a treasured area for growing flax and collecting kaimoana (seafood). It was surrounded by healthy saltmarsh wetlands and a thriving estuary.

When the land was developed for farming and the Kaituna River was diverted away from the estuary in the 1950s, the mauri (life force) of the island and the estuary became degraded. Algae built up in the estuary making it unpleasant to swim in. Populations of fish and native wildlife (including rare lizards and birds) in the area declined.

Regional Council, Maori landowners, Nga Whenua Rahui and tangata whenua and community volunteers are now working together to protect the island’s cultural values and restore it as a natural area for wildlife and local people to enjoy. Regional Council and Ngā Whenua Rāhui are sharing the $534,000 cost of the project which is co-ordinated by Regional Council staff. Te Rūnanga o Ngati Whakaue ki Maketū were contracted to manage the initial planting work, with assistance from four local community groups.

It’s a 25 year restoration project that includes provision for education and economic opportunities.

This project also contributes to the wider efforts being led by Regional Council to partially return freshwater flows from the Kaituna River into Maketū Estuary and restore 100 hectares of wetland in the Kaituna catchment.


Project concept drawing - before restoration

Papahikahawai before concept


Project concept drawing - future vision

Papahikahawai after concept