30 July 2005
Along the Wellington south coast, just to the west of the parking area by the former quarry building at the end of the Road from Owhiro Bay, Hape Creek (also known as Spooky Creek or Runaround Creek; SEA 1996) runs out across or through the shingle to the sea. This small stream runs down from Spooky Gully, which is home to many nationally and regionally threatened plant species and habitats (Atkinson and Bouzaid, 2004; Gabites 1994; SEA 1996).
A description of the outlet of this stream to the sea as it once was comes from a report in “The Evening Post” (Saturday August 27 1938) of a ‘Tragedy at “run around”’ when a worker was trapped and swept out to sea by a huge wave with the horses and dray he was driving.
“The accident occurred at a point known locally as Fly Rock Bay, several hundreds of yards west of the end of the road which leads around the coast from Ohiro Bay. At the end of the road is the “Run Around” Creek, which has cut a narrow channel for itself through the almost vertical cliff face. From there, cars can continue safely only a few yards to the extreme end of Wellington’s Marine Drive. At low and half tides pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles can go on along the beach, which is usually covered at high tide. On the right hand sheer cliff faces rise to heights of several hundred feet.”
As shown in a 1910 photograph (on file) of “the firm of Tonks and Andrews collecting shingle at Owhiro Bay” on the Beach at the runaround (the stretch of beach following the stream), the hillside came steeply down and access was difficult along the sea edge. The news report included a description of that stretch of coast.
“The locality is very popular with trampers and weekend visitors but the combination of steep cliff, narrow beach and at times exceptionally heavy surf has always to be treated with caution. This is not the first occasion when a powerful wave has swept right up to the cliffs at an unexpected moment but a wetting is usually all that has resulted. On many occasions people have been trapped west of the “Run Around” and have had to climb the cliffs in order to make their way back.”
Since the sea came right up to the cliff base, during the second world war trucks unloaded at the road end into a dray to take stores to the observation post at Sinclair Head. In those days there was little blasting and the bulk of the aggregate came from the beaches. Later a road, with a rock overhang, was cut through that cliff. Eventually the quarrying was so extensive that the cliff face was cut back and the beach widened removing that cliff face, so the stream no longer runs out through “a narrow channel”.
Up the stream, a small dam provided a water supply for the quarry. That dam was built before 1942. There was a foot track to the dam, which was used whenever there was a need to unblock the entry point of the water. Somewhat later a concrete pad was built across the stream, and the gap was widened to provide easy access.
There was widespread dismay of what the quarry activities were doing to a much-loved environment.
For example, Roy Furniss wrote of his dismay in 1997
I am weak I cannot get the help I seek,
To stop Milburn raping Hape Creek.
A gift from God to sit beside Te awaiti,
Somewhere to relax from the pressure of the city.
Look ye at this gem and save it from the greed of man.
Roy obviously had a particular concern for the Hape Stream, which is mentioned in other poems.
“To paddle up Hape Creek,/And catch a koura would be neat./But Dad said it’ll be a while yet,/It takes time for the (mumble) Council to meet.” (from “A wish”)
“The water above the wier was a gray soup. … Why were they allowed to do this to Hape?” (from “Rape of Hape Creek”, in recognition of Robert Logan)
Those commercial developments were not only unpleasant for people, but also meant that the stream was no longer fish friendly, since many stream fish migrate and cannot get past a hanging pipe.
“Within the Greater Wellington Region there are some 30 freshwater fish species in our rivers, lakes and wetlands. Of the 30 species 22 are native and of those 22, 18 need to migrate between freshwater and the sea during their life. Their survival depends on it. Fish like whitebait and young eels swim up rivers from the sea. They must be able to pass through culverts and over weirs on their journeys. Poorly installed culverts, weirs and fords that restrict fish passage will reduce the amount of habitat available for fish causing a decline in fish numbers.” (George Holley, Friends of Owhiro Stream, personal communication)
The first illustration (provided by Brian Bouzaid, WCC) shows that access for fish was completely blocked when the quarry constructed a road across the stream, which was carried in pipes under the road before dropping to the beach.
That causeway has now been removed and the lower reaches of the stream have been returned to a more natural state.
However, the concrete pad and the dam remain as barriers to fish movement. The further two illustrations (provided by Fritz Schone) show the concrete pad and the dam in 2005. Neither is fish friendly. The dam is both of historic interest, and provides a useful educational resource since the silting-up so evident in the illustration is an important development in many dams, including those used for electricity generation. This is one more of the many accessible illustrations of natural processes found along this coast (the quarry wall, for example, is much appreciated by geology teachers).
The Friends of Owhiro Stream (FOOS) are actively improving the surrounds of one of the few open streams remaining in Wellington City. George Holley and I thought that the Hape Stream too deserved some attention. After a visit with Murray McLea (GWRC) who provided a report, we prepared a proposal and introduced our ideas to Peter Hemsley (WCC), Jeanette Gibson and Alistair Cross (GWRC) – shown in the illustration examining the concrete pad.
The proposal was that:
- The remains of the concrete ford should be removed and the stream regraded both above and below that site (primarily above). All concrete pieces should be removed.
- The area behind the dam should be cleared out, using the sediment to provide a suitable base for plants along the compacted area by the pool. The dam can then be allowed to again silt up, keeping a photographic record of the process.
- The front of the dam should be graded to a ‘fish-friendly’ state with a rock ramp across the full width (or similar).
Let us hope that the good work can continue.
Thanks to: Brian Bouzaide, Bruce Diggle, George Holley, Murray McLea, Fritz Schone, Graeme Tonks and Maggie Wassilieff.
Atkinson L and Bouzaid B, “The story of Owhiro Bay quarry”, WCC, 2004
Gabites I, “Healing the south coast”, WCC, Department of Conservation and Royal forest and Bird Protection Society, 1994
SEA (Southern Environmental Association), “Spooky Gully, the case for agreeing now to conservation site status”, 1996