Murihiku – our home

Omaui Beach in March 2011 as the sand begins to cover the rocks.

If you were last at Omaui a decade ago, you will remember the rocky shore with lots of crabs, seaweed and mussels.

You will remember the starfish and barnacles, limpets and catseyes.

If you go out there now you will see a large sandy beach. The rocks are still there, well buried, but all the marine life between high and low tides has gone, or rather it’s been replaced by pipi, paddle crabs and oystercatchers.

The change is natural, following a cycle of about 25 to 40 years.

A good storm will take all the sand away and, years later, a small sand bar will form, the flow of the tide will change and a sandy beach will grow again.

The problem is structures get in the way when the coast is in its erosion phase; the road is threatened, the sewage pond isn’t too far distant and remains of former occupation show.

Here and there an old rubbish pit, opened again, spills its plastic and tin cans to the beach. Older still middens are cut back, exposing layers of charcoal, burnt rocks, fish bones and shells. Here and there a burial for this was a site of long occupation small kaika or village with all the resources close at hand.

Kaimoana or seafood, kereru and woodhens, totara and manuka, a viewpoint and a safe place to launch a waka.

The lagoon on the Omaui beach appears and disappears, it grows and deepens, then drains as a large tide scours a channel. Once it had goldfish and koura or freshwater crayfish but in its present cycle it catches spring tides and remains brackish.

Once important as a shipping channel, the entrance to the New River Estuary was last used in the 1930s as small vessels brought in timber for the Port Craig company.

In the 1800s, there was a proposal to build a breakwater across the entrance to direct the current against the Omaui shore to keep the channel deep and constant, but it would never have worked.

The sea finds its own answers to our mucking around with rivermouths, and the coasts are strewn with abandoned structures which were supposed to be bulwarks against the tide.

In the end, the problem with getting ships through the shallow and fickle bars at the estuary entrance was solved by the acceptance that Bluff had been the better port all along.

A dozen ships were wrecked at Omaui and many more were stranded for days or weeks.

Others bumped their way in and out across bars often only a metre or two deep – that’s the origin of the expression ‘touch and go’.

  • Murihiku – our home is a new weekly column from local historian Lloyd Esler