Pearl Creek


Pearl Creek is a rare and precious wetland, which was once found right around the Waimea Inlet; habitats like this have been lost over the years to grazing, drainage and reclamation. Today Pearl Creek and its environs support a rich community of fish, insects, birds and native plants. This includes stands of kuawa or lake club rush, and marsh arrowgrass, which are rare in the district.

The Pearl

Appleby School Picnic at Rabbit Island 2Nelson Provincial Museum.Rod O'Connor's draught horse-drawn wagon takes Appleby School children off to a picnic, 1963. Barry Simpson Nelson Photo News Collection 19712 Click image to enlarge

From 1866-1874, a boat named Pearl maintained a passenger and goods service between Waimea and Nelson and probably lent her name to Pearl Creek.  Other Ketches continued the service beyond this date. As roads improved, the ferry service came to an end – around 1914. Small boatsheds were built near Cotterell’s Landing by those interested in fishing the estuary. When boat trailers arrived on the scene, the sheds fell into disrepair and had all vanished by the early 1960s.

The 22-ton 49 foot barge, Pearl was built in 1864 at Port Cygnet, Tasmania and was grounded on Fifeshire [Arrow] rock in 1874. She survived this incident to be finally wrecked at Long Point, Hawkes Bay 8 June 1879.1

Cotterell’s Landing

In 1842 John Cotterell and fellow surveyor H W Burt established a regular boat service from Nelson to what became known as Cotterell’s Landing sited about 150 metres north of the Pearl Creek Information Board. The twice weekly ferry was Nelson’s first European run transport service and it meant people could avoid hours of negotiating the swampland between Waimea and Nelson. A small wharf allowed the boat to load and unload passengers and goods.23

John Sylvanus Cotterell (1819-1843)

John Sylvanus Cotterell, a young Quaker surveyor, arrived in Nelson in February, 1842. He surveyed several areas in the top of the South Island including the Waimea Plains and Waimea West. Cotterell developed very good relations with Māori in Motueka and, during exploration of inland districts, was often accompanied by his trusted guide Pikiwati (Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri). By March 1843, Cotterell was surveying the Wairau Valley for the New Zealand Company. Ngāti Toa disputed the Company’s claim and tried to stop the surveys by non-violent means. Cotterell was part of the hapless party sent to deal with the well-prepared Ngāti Toa. An armed conflict ensued in which the 23 year old Cotterell (who as a Quaker had refused to bear arms) was killed along with 21 other Pakeha and 12 Māori. Cotterell’s companion, Pikiwati, was devastated by his death.

Horse and Wagon Road

The road that now bears Cotterell’s name was the original route to Moturoa/Rabbit Island. Prior to 1957 when the first bridge was built, a horse and wagon was the only way to get there. This tradition continued until about 1970 by Mr Rod O’Connor of Cotterell Road. He took the children of Appleby School to Moturoa/Rabbit Island for their school picnic on a wagon. Even after the bridge was built, it was only possible to use the road at low tide so visitors had to be very “tide-aware” to avoid being marooned on the island for long periods.

Since the 1970s there has been a growing awareness of the damage to plants, fish, insects and birds that vehicles can cause to the inlet and its edges. You can help by not taking vehicles onto beaches, using designated boat ramps to launch craft and when walking, watching for well-camouflaged nests above the high tide line in summer.

Pearl Creek Restoration

Pearl Creek, which is two kilometres from its spring to the sea, traverses an environment of high water quality and high-value habitat for birds and fish. In the 1980s restoration officially began when an area of Esplanade Reserve was set aside as a result of a subdivision application. Neighbouring landowners agreed to place protective covenants over nearby stream banks and Appleby School and other organisations became involved in restoration planting. In 2000 the Tasman Environmental Trust adopted Pearl Creek as a flagship project.

Written by Janet Bathgate

The text for this story came from the Tasman District Council/ New Zealand Cycle Trail Heritage Panel, 2012.

Updated, September 2, 2021.

Sources used in this story

  1. Poverty Bay Herald, Volume VI, Issue 810, 16 June 1879,  p. 2.
  2. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume I, Issue 32, 15 October 1842, Page 127.
  3. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume I, Issue 38, 26 November 1842, Page 149 [Advert].

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