Four days, bobbing around in the water, buffeted by the wind and the swell, gave me time to think about what the harbour means to me. As a kid while our car crossed the harbour bridge I looked down at what seemed a massive stretch of water. Later I came to love taking the Devonport ferry to drink at the Masonic or wander round North Head enjoying what surely must be one of the city’s best views. And now living in Te Atatu I take my kayak out and catch snapper in the upper reaches.
I decided it is more than just a place to swim and fish and sail and paddle and motor around. More than a port or a collection of shipping routes. The harbour with all its beauty and changing moods is as much a part of our mental geography as the buildings and streets and volcanoes. It is part of who we are as Aucklanders.
So why this desire to clean it up, and repair the damage and pollution inflicted by decades of development and neglect? If the harbour is part of who we are, then surely we want to pass it on to our grandchildren in good shape: not silted up, contaminated, lifeless and unsafe for swimming. But I keep coming back to Len Brown’s liveable city which has become the measuring stick.
What could be more liveable than going down to Devonport wharf and catching whitebait as our grandparents’ generation did? Or swimming at city beaches and knowing you won’t pick up a gastro bug even after heavy rains? Or an 8 year old catching koura in the Le Roys stream at Little Shoal Bay? Or the kids of Massey being able to swim in the Manutewhau stream without picking up ear infections? Or Ngati Whatua being able to pick a feed of pipis at Okahu Bay as did generations before?
So what to do about it? Here’s my 5 point plan for the Waitemata, cobbled together while paddling:
1. Auckland Council should roll out the world-acclaimed Project Twin Streams, developed by the old Waitakere City Council, to mobilise the community to clean up streams, restore native habitat, and reduce harmful run-off.
2. Local and central government should increase funding to community environment programmes like Sustainable Coastlines and the Kaipatiki Project, engaging the community in habitat restoration, raising public awareness and changing behaviours.
3. Auckland Council should do an audit of storm and wastewater infrastructure and plan the investments needed so the system can cope with a million extra people in the next 30-40 years without breaking down and polluting the harbour. Start by fixing all the sewerage leaks entering waterways around the harbour.
4. Shipping companies using the Port of Auckland should strictly adhere to the new 14 km/h speed limit to reduce the Bryde’s whales being killed by ship strike. If the companies don’t play ball, the speed limit should be regulated.
5. The parties in the Hauraki Gulf Forum should agree to 10% of the gulf to be made Marine Reserves, then to be legislated by the government. This will allow marine life to regenerate, and ecosystems to be restored.
The week finished with a morning out on the Gulf with Explore the whale watching people. The boat was full of high school students finishing up a week long summer camp on marine science, and some of the scientists and advocates from the Hauraki Gulf Forum. It was a blissful few hours out on the water, sharing it with the Gulf’s advocates of today and tomorrow.
Thanks for following my trail around the Watemata. I’m grateful to all the good people we met along the way, my various paddling buddies, Mels for logistics and support, and of course Ferg’s.
Photos: Olivia Baber, Auckland Council