Vehicle access rules confuse Kāpiti beachgoers

Whitebaiters on the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington are scratching their heads and asking why signs and bollards have been put up banning them from driving along the beach to their prime fishing spot.

They have long used the Waikanae Beach Estuary, which borders a protected Scientific Reserve, as an entry point, despite bylaws banning vehicles.

The Kāpiti Coast District Council – who put up the signs – said it was taking a harder line on the rule which had been in place since 2009.

However, it confirmed it would continue to issue vehicle permits for whitebaiters.

Last year 21 permits were issued and numbers were expected to be similar this year.

John Robinson who lives at Waikanae said the rules were confusing.

“The [district council] is issuing permits which it has no authority to do so.

“That council can issue permits for people to drive along the sand dunes but it issues permits for people to drive along the damp sand which is under the control of the regional council.

“I just wish they’d stop muddying the water.”

Council regulatory services manager Natasha Tod said the signs had gone up as a response to increasing concern from residents that people were driving along the beach.

“Since 2009 our beach bylaw has prohibited people driving along most of the coastline from the Waimeha stream north of Waikanae, down to Fisherman’s Table south of Paekakariki.

“There are a couple of exceptions to this and one of them is the ability in the bylaw for council to issue permits for particular purposes and since 2012 this has allowed a small number of whitebaiters to have vehicle access to some parts of the beach for the purpose of whitebaiting.”

She said both the regional council and the district council had responsibility over the beach.

“Down to the mean low-water springs mark – the area between mean high-water and mean low-water both the district council and the regional council have some area of responsibility for.”

A regional council spokesperson said it did not issue permits and would only consider allowing beach access to the public under a resource consent.

Mr Robinson said the path was very close to the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve, which was Department of Conservation land.

“It’s a precious area, there’s the shellfish and the birds – some birds would nest there if they weren’t bothered so much. We’ve seen Oyster Catchers there chasing us away from a nest where a vehicle can drive by. It must be protected it’s a really valuable area.”

“It’s also a lovely area for the public to walk across without vehicles going to and fro, in the whitebait season it’s like a parking lot in there.”

Vehicles are not allowed within the Scientific Reserve.

DOC operations manger for the region Jack Mace said attempts to enforce this rule were difficult because of the permits being issued by the district council.

“It has always been illegal for vehicles to drive on the beach within the reserve.

“Attempting to enforce this in the past has been difficult when people have been permitted to drive on the adjacent beach, and has led to physical threats to our rangers.”

He said it was a good move by the district council to erect signs, reminding people that beach access by vehicle was illegal.

“We understand that during whitebait season especially this may be unpopular with some people, however the wider community have made it clear that they expect us to protect the reserve.”

The district council said a review of its beach bylaw would get underway next year and vehicles on beaches would be considered as part of that.