Protecting Te Paruparu


Public pressure and commonsense saved Te Paruparu/Nelson Haven

A large part of Nelson Haven might have been ‘a place of sprawling ribbon development’ on reclaimed land at Wakapuaka, if a group of Nelson people hadn’t fought the Nelson City Council in the 1970s.1

Nelson Haven Mudflats at low tide

Nelson Haven Mudflats at low tide. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

The ecological and economic values of estuaries, like Nelson Haven, were only just being understood and it had only been a few years since they were recognised as crucial spawning and fishing grounds for many commercial inshore fish species.2 Environmental lobby groups were almost unknown at this time,3 but the industrial growth of the post-war economy had begun to put pressure on the environment.4 From about 1970, environmental groups around the world began to confront the issues of pollution and the negative impact of industrial development.


Reclamation in Nelson Haven. (1885) Note Trafalgar Park at Maitai River mouth. Nelson Provincial Museum, Misc 1/2 47

In the mid 1970s, largely untreated effluent poured into Tasman Bay. This included waste from the Stoke and Richmond sewage outfalls, the Apple and Pear Board’s cannery, Nelson Freezing Works, Nelson Pine’s chip mill and two piggeries.  An estimated 14 million litres per day was pouring into the Waimea Estuary in 1976.5

Te Paruparu is the estuary of the Mahitahi/Maitai River and is  largely enclosed by the 13 km Boulder Bank. The tidal land (about 17,280 h) from Glenduan (The Glen) to Ruby Bay was vested in the Nelson Harbour Board for more than 150 years and the development of the Port encroached on hundreds of hectares over the years.6

Nelson Haven planning map

Nelson City Council Planning map showing reclamation proposal, 1969

In 1967, the Nelson City Empowering Act  saw some of this land handed over to the Nelson City Council. The  Council developed a plan to infill 710 hectares of the remaining 1600 hectares of the Haven’s tidal flats  providing housing for 18,000 people, as well as industrial development.7 The scheme to develop a marina-type residential area aimed to meet Nelson’s pressing need for more land to house its growing population.8

It wasn’t until Truth newspaper published a contentious article in September 1972 about the murky dealings, between some members of the Nelson City Council and a development consortium regarding the infilling of the Haven for housing, that public opposition began to grow.  There were angry letters to the Nelson Evening Mail9 and the Wakapuaka Residents Association voted unanimously to oppose the reclamation.10

On July 9 1973, more than 400 people crowded into the Nelson School of Music for a public meeting to learn about the campaign to save the Nelson Tidal Flats.11 A resolution was signed at this meeting asking that (at least) the area north of Cemetery Point (by Brooklands Road) was declared a reserve under The Reserves and Domains Act 1957.12

Nelson haven NEM 7 Jul 1973

Notice for Nelson Haven protest meeting, Nelson Evening Mail, 7 July 1973

Next day, July 10, the editorial in the Nelson Evening Mail described a sudden turn around by Mayor, Roy McLellan, who surprised those at the public meeting when he indicated his support for the resolution and announced that the development would not proceed.  The editorial went on to say that several official reports had urged caution as little was known about the effects of the proposals on the ecology of the Haven and wider Tasman Bay.  It was also noted that Council membership and public attitudes had changed since the scheme was first mooted in 1967.13 Mr McLennan’s Wikipedia entry notes that he didn’t have Council support at the time and it took some time for the matter to be finally resolved in the objectors’ favour.14

Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, the Harbour Board continued to pursue its development plans, reclaiming nearly 15 hectares at the mouth of the Maitai River for a boat harbour and dredging dump - this work was completed in 1984. In 1986, Nelson’s Cawthron Institute published a report recommending that any future reclamations be of sub-tidal, rather than inter-tidal areas.15

Natural infilling caused by sedimentation (accelerated by clearing bush from the hills to the east of the Haven) has been a long continuing process at the northern head of the Haven, with the area of the Haven reduced by about 1400 h. Between Nelson City and Port Nelson, about 100 h of the Haven has been reclaimed by man-made hard and hydraulic fill.16

The Friends of Nelson Haven were not able to stop reclamations, but were successful in greatly limiting them.17 When the society began in 1973, there were minimal controls on the infilling of estuaries and the coastal discharge of effluent. While the environmental regime today is very different, it is thanks to groups like the Friends of Nelson Haven that large parts of the Haven and  Waimea Inlet are undeveloped and retain a large part of their natural character.18 

However, in 1994 Nelson Haven and, in particular, Wakapuaka Flats faced another challenge, with a proposal for a deepwater port development on the Flats. The project – fronted by a prominent local politician of the day, Owen Jennings and backed by former Cabinet minister and future ACT party leader Richard Prebble and various state and private sector high flyers – became known as Port Kakariki, a deepwater port featuring a one-kilometre-long wharf extending from the Boulder Bank into Tasman Bay, where giant ships could berth and manoeuvre with ease.19 It was planned as the hub to ship West Coast coal to Asia, as well as handling logs, which would be barged across Tasman Bay from Mapua.

The project garnered a huge amount of opposition, for its environmental impact, with planned construction of enormous sheds on the bank to house cargo, as well as the long wharf, and scepticism about the business model, as rival operators on the West Coast stated their concerns. By 1996, the Nelson Mail, stated that it was  "too grandiose to ever be put into practice", but it was never truly dead and several years later, when the Nelson North marine reserve was proposed, Port Nelson lodged its concerns that a reserve must not be allowed to hinder the possibility that one day, a deep-water port may be built out in Tasman Bay. However, the marine reserve went ahead, ending plans for any port.20

The Friends group was involved in fighting the Port proposal and became involved in a wide range of issues around threats to water quality and threats of infilling and the loss of estuarine habitat.21 The group continues to make submissions on a variety of environmental issues throughout the top of the South Island.22

2017 (updated November 2020)

Sources used in this story

  1. Collett, G (2010, July 31) Pie in the (blue) sky ideas. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
  2. North, M. (2007) The story of the friends of Nelson Haven & Tasman Bay. Nelson, N.Z. : Friends of Nelson Haven & Tasman Bay, p5
  3. North, p10
  4. North, p3
  5. North, P12
  6. North, P 6
  7. North, P8
  8. Editorial (1973, July 10) Nelson Evening Mail, p8.
  9. North, p 8
  10. North, p2
  11. North, p2-3
  12. North, p 9
  13. Editorial
  14. Roy McLennan. Retrieved from Wikipedia Jan 2017:
  15. North, p11
  16. Collyer, E. (1976). History and natural history of Boulder Bank, Nelson Haven, Nelson New Zealand. Nelson: Cawthron Institute. p 15-16.
  17. North, p 11
  18. North, p 32
  19. Kakariki may be ready in two years (1994, October 1). Nelson Mail; Freight cost fears fuel port proposal (1994, September 27) Nelson Mail
  20. Marine plans revived; Port Kakariki company releases more details. (1994, December 23) Nelson Mail, p.1
  21. North,p10.
  22. Friends of Nelson Haven & Tasman Bay Inc. Retrieved Jan 2017:

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