Locals celebrate 25th anniversary of Mangawhai's rebellious 'Big Dig'

Noel Cullen, one of the three initiators of the reopening of the harbour with Phil Dreardon, who owned several machines ...
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Noel Cullen, one of the three initiators of the reopening of the harbour with Phil Dreardon, who owned several machines operating on the first day of the Big Dig.

Kiwi-initiative, know-how and a touch of rebellion are being remembered in Mangawhai, as the town commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Big Dig.   

Legendary in the coastal township, the Big Dig was a unique event where local residents, frustrated by the inertia of councils and the Department of Conservation, banded together and breathed life back into their dying harbour.

Armed with over 40 excavating machines and in defiance of council opposition, a large team of volunteers gathered at the Mangawhai lagoon in the early hours of February 11, 1991.

Over four days they laboured to reopen the northern end of the harbour by Picnic Bay and close off a southern breach, allowing the sea to once again flow through and cleanse the lagoon.

The ebb and flow of the Mangawhai harbour had been damaged since 1978, with severe storms including Cyclone Bola in 1987 which reformed channels and blocked the northern inlet, creating stagnation and a growing stench. 

Over the next five years the volunteers, now known as the Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society [MHRS] have planted over 100,000 native sand-dune plants to stabilise the shifting sand and constructed a bund wall to permanently close the southern breach.    

A symbol of people power, the Big Dig illustrates what can be achieved when a community works together.  

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 - Stuff

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