One of the highlights of a holiday in GOLDEN BAY has to be the drive along the edge of the vast estuary known as Westhaven, or Whanganui Inlet. This is the second-largest estuary in the South Island and as well as being a beautiful landscape it is an important fishing and wildlife area.
Recognising the great natural values of Westhaven and the firm desire of local people to keep their estuary free from the sad decline which is evident in estuaries such as the Manukau, the Department of Conservation proposed Marine Reserve status for the inlet and, after a considerable amount of public consultation, not one but two types of reserves have come into being.
In the southwesterly end of the inlet, from Pah Point towards Mangarakau, the estuary is now Marine Reserve, where all plants and animals are protected – no fish, shellfish, whitebait or seaweed may be taken. In the north-eastern two thirds of the inlet things are different; this area is a Wildlife Management Reserve, where commercial fishing is prohibited, as are certain „indiscriminate-catch“ types of net, but where all other traditional types of fishing, plus whitebaiting and duck-shooting, are encouraged.
This „dual reserve“ management of Westhaven is a first for New Zealand and should give this important area long term protection while allowing a wide range of fishing and other „harvesting“. The need for Tangata Whenua to collect kaimoana for cultural purposes is also recognised.
It is hoped that this management system will protect Westhaven from the ills which have befallen other estuaries.
Travellers note – there is a grand viewpoint directly opposite the inlet entrance, there is a spot (Echo Point, signposted) where you must stop and try your voice, there is fine bush with isolated patches of farmland for those interested in the greener things in life, and there is the challenge, at the inlet’s end, of even further exploration. The road is narrow in places and inclined to be dusty in dry weather. There may also be a few sandflies on dull days. None of these minor irritants can spoil your day at Westhaven, under any circumstances.
An increasingly popular way of appreciating this environmental paradise is by kayak or canoe. Sheltered waters and hidden inlets abound. You can paddle right up the Wairoa River into the depths of pristine native forest.