Waikanae Estuary Care Group

Guardians of the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve

The Waikanae Estuary Care Group inc. (WECG) commenced in 2004 through the efforts of locals who noticed that the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve, which had been set aside back in 1987, had become an exotic weed wasteland, and they wanted to restore it as much as possible to its natural state.

The estuary reserves consist of an area of approximately 79 hectares – 69 ha on the south side of the Waikanae River and 10 ha on the northern side. The group has a Community Agreement with DOC (March 2019) and a MoU with Kapiti Coast District Council as part of the co-management philosophy.

Fly around the Scientific Reserve

courtesy of Greater Wellington Council drone pilots!

This was shot in April 2021 so shows the current river direction at that time, it moves a lot affecting the Reserve, especially with erosion.

We have been fortunate having input into our work by two experienced ecologists. The first one was the late Geoff Park who was asked by DoC to write a restoration plan for the estuary. His vision of establishing a seed source in the estuary by planting in small nodes was largely achieved during the first five years. In 2010 Isobel Gabites revised and updated the plan to provide direction for the next period. In line with her plan we are planting good successional plants, i.e. lower ground cover and shrub species. The aim is to restore the estuary’s natural successional processes, given past human interventions and modifications.


We have learnt a lot on the way. Initially plants were bought for the project, however it soon became apparent that we needed to grow our own: to ensure plants were in fact ecosourced; that genetically robust plants were planted; that plants were site hardened in a shadehouse adjacent to the estuary; and to keep costs down. We have recently upgraded in 2020 to be able to produce most of our own hardened plants and rely heavily on the services of the local seed bank.


The estuary is an extremely windy and salty environment, which also experiences frosts. Apart from that, our biggest challenge has been weed control. More effort is now being placed into site preparation. Common invasive weeds include: blackberry, periwinkle, bindweed, buckthorn, boneseed, boxthorn, pampas and gorse. A recent DoC Weeding Plan, created by Mike Urlich, directs how the Scientific Reserve weeds will be tackled to achieve our Vision.

In December 2020 the Group became part of the Waikanae Jobs for Nature programme (DoC) and has been using people from the programme to accelerate the clearance of pervasive weeds, prior to long term planting of these areas.

The Group has an open membership, currently around 180 local people, who volunteer with us in a range of reserve activities including nursery operations, site clearing and spraying, pest management, planning and supervision, asset management, social media marketing, even making the morning teas when we get out to weed our precious plants!