Waitangi Park – an urban wetland recreated

With its opening in 2006, the 6.5 hectare Waitangi Park, on Wellington’s waterfront [click here to view location], became New Zealand’s largest new urban park in 100 years. Waitangi Park is near the site of the old Waitangi wetland, which was fed by the Waitangi Stream. Rich with eel, fish and shellfish, it was used for centuries by Maori for food gathering, as a source of fresh water, and as a place to launch their canoes (or waka) into the sea.

Early English settlers planned to dig a canal along the path of the stream to allow boats to be anchored in the Basin Lagoon (now the Basin Reserve). However, in 1855, a massive earthquake lifted the land by 1.5 metres, irrevocably altering the watercourse and wetland. Subsequently, as was the case with many (if not most) urban wetlands and waterways in New Zealand, the stream was forced underground to become part of the wastewater system.

The recreated wetland combines sophisticated urban design with ecological function, and provides habitat for ducks, which on the day we visited, were using the reeds in the wetland areas as both nesting sites and places of sanctuary for their ducklings.

At one stage in 2010, there was also discussion of releasing eels into the site [read newspaper article], though this caused some controversy as the eels would be trapped in the wetlands, unable to swim upstream, owing to the stream passed through pipes underground from the Basin Reserve, where water treatment equipment impedes any passage.

Situated on land reclaimed from the sea, this urban wetland is another reminder of the cyclical nature of environmental history.

Photo top: a view of the Waitangi Park wetland. Above right: a duck using the prolific reeds in the wetland as a sanctuary for her ducklings. Above centre: another view of the wetland, with the Sunday market vehicles and stalls in the background (All photos by C. Knight).

Source/further reading:Waitangi Park opens in Wellington, New Zealand Herald; Group plans to slip a few eels downtown, Dominion Post.

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