Locals shocked by rock wall blocking access to popular Golden Bay river

Rock walls have been erected at the Waitapu Bridge site, near Takaka, blocking most of the access to the reserve and along the riverbank.
Nina Hindmarsh/Stuff
Rock walls have been erected at the Waitapu Bridge site, near Takaka, blocking most of the access to the reserve and along the riverbank.

Rock walls have nearly closed access to one of Golden Bay’s top fishing rivers – upsetting locals concerned about the gradual loss of access to waterways in the area.

A large portion of the reserve and riverbank at Waitapu Bridge, near Tākaka, has been blocked off by rock walls leading right down to the water’s edge.

They have been erected by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, as part of the area’s closure to freedom campers.

Ownership of the popular site was recently passed from the Tasman District Council to the agency and the site is now being jointly managed with iwi Manawhenua kī Mōhua.

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Golden Bay resident Duncan Cavaye said he was shocked to encounter the rock wall – and even more concerned about plans to install a locked gate at the site entrance.

Cavaye had formed the Golden Bay Public Access Preservation group and planning a community meeting to find workable solutions.

“This is an access issue about how we are being increasingly confined by bureaucratic decisions closing off access to waterways to New Zealand citizens.”

Cavaye said he had strong support from other residents.

The council amended its freedom camping bylaw in early December, with councillors voting to remove the sites at Waitapu Bridge and Taupata Gravel Reserve from its bylaw.

The changes came after the council received strong support from the public for the closure of Waitapu Bridge, including from Manawhenua kī Mōhua, to whom the area is considered wāhi tapu (sacred).

But the tidal river was frequented by families, boaties, fishermen and whitebaiters, Cavaye said.

“It is a beautiful area that has been undervalued, under-resourced, and it could be a real future-asset.”

He was worried the closure of Waitapu Bridge might “embolden other locals” to close off access to other areas themselves, such as what happened last week at Taupata Reserve. The site was blocked off by a mound of dirt, presumably to stop freedom campers using the gravel reserve.

Fisherman Hika Rountree said the loss of river access also happened at the popular Riley St site, in Tākaka, because people “took advantage” of freedom camping at the site.

“The Waitapu Bridge site is the only place on the Tākaka River that you can launch a trailer boat or dinghy. Many canoes and kayaks along with stand-up paddleboards also launch at this spot.

“It is also easy access for the elderly and disabled. I am vehemently opposed to losing access or applying for a key to a gate. I believe it is our right as Kiwis to have public access to this spot.”

Waitapu Bridge is a popular freedom camping site.
Waitapu Bridge is a popular freedom camping site.

NZTA system manager Andrew James said the rocks were placed as a short-term measure to prevent people staying overnight.

One of the key aims of the future management of the site was to restore the river environment and the water quality, while maintaining community access,” he said.

Unfortunately, despite the interim measures, people continued to use the site for overnight camping.

“The large rocks and signs have not been a big enough deterrent and the overnight campers are now blocking access to people using the boat ramp and other day visitors; this is causing further environmental damage and giving rise to health and safety concerns.”

NZTA was investigating further short-term options and a gate would be installed next week. However, there were currently no plans to close access to the site.

“The gate installation allows us the opportunity to respond promptly in the future if the situation escalates and causes further health and safety concerns.”

Pou Ārahi for Manawhenua kī Mōhua Ursula Passl said a key element of future site management would be kōrero with local community and site users to find a workable solution and a positive outcome for everyone.

“To address all the social, cultural and community values of the site, the idea is to protect and look after all those different elements and things dear to the local community.”