Kawatiri Coastal Trail – A Buller Adventure
The Kawatiri Coastal Trail is a Grade 2, family-friendly cycling and walking heritage trail that will connect the Buller District towns of Westport and Charleston. When completed the trail will comprise of eight gentle sections, with multiple access points. Diverse landscapes and informative interpretation panels combine to create a memorable journey across the full trail’s 42 km journey.
The trail begins in Westport and initially follows the Buller River - Kawatiri, with its Māori meaning of swift and deep. Four consecutive sections of the trail are currently open, between Westport and Ōkari Lagoon, offering users 22km of continuous Trail, in addition the Waitakere 1km section at Charleston is also open. (Sections open - Pūwaha, Kawau, Omau & Tauranga, Waitakere). Under construction, Section 5- Ōkari, will be officially opened for public use in early October 2023 and the full 8 sections will be completed and opened for use by mid-2024.
Starting at the Buller Bridge reserve in Westport, the ‘Pūwaha’ (River Mouth) section of the trail travels over the Buller Bridge then borders Buller’s first farmed area, established by the Martin family in 1865. The trail leads on through a magical wetland forest and as you exit this stunning boardwalk you will encounter the ship-like masts of the Martins Creek suspension bridge, offering elevated views of the surrounding wetlands and abundant bird and wildlife. The journey continues west hugging the estuary, enabling visitors to observe the wading birds stalking their prey in the shallows. Everyone should ensure they stop and explore the shelter at ‘Whare Ngāhue’. Interpretation panels in the whare tell the story of the nearby farmland, an historic Māori archaeological site dating back to around 1350, thought to be one of the earliest New Zealand settlements. As the trail reaches the Carters Beach Reserve, the river trail becomes coastal, and trail users are greeted with breathtaking views of the 9 km shoreline of Carters Beach.
Following 500-year-old Pounamu and 1860 Gold Trails, section 2 of the trail, ‘Kawau’ (shag/cormorant) offers an expansive coastal experience, featuring outlooks to the stunning Tasman Sea and Paparoa Ranges. The majority of this section is flat terrain that runs adjacent to the sandy beach and then rises gently towards the old Holcim Cement site, as it reaches the Cape Foulwind headland (Kawau Point). The name Kawau was derived from the shag colony once situated near Kawau Point. The reefs located here, were important for kai moana (seafood) and Kawau Point was historically a vital lookout for Māori, allowing them to communicate with Kawatiri using smoke signals to warn of the arrivals of friend or foe. The trail’s whole coastline is also a breeding ground for the protected little blue penguin (kororā), the world’s smallest penguin.
Section 3 of the trail, ‘Omau’ (O Mau - productions of the earth) is rich in ecology, culture, and heritage. Abel Tasman first sighted the Cape in 1642 and named it Rocky Point, but the point was later re-named Place of Foul Winds by Captain Cook, when his ship was besieged by gales in 1770. Māori knew the Cape as Tauranga, referring to the sheltered anchorage the bay provided for their voyaging waka. The heritage of the area includes stories of ancient Māori trails, the railway and granite quarry, the flax & timber mills and later the lime quarry and cement works. As you leave the settlement of Omau, the trail rises gently through a podocarp forest dominated by regenerated rimu. As you continue to climb you encounter short areas of a steeper grade. Make sure to take your time, and as you head downhill towards Williams Gully and onto Tauranga Bay, stop & enjoy the spectacular views across to the Paparoa Ranges and on a clear day, Aoraki / Mount Cook.
Tauranga (Sheltered anchorage), section 4 of the trail follows the shoreline of Tauranga Bay which is renowned for its fur seal (kekeno) colony and great surf. The Bay offers world class waves and from the trail you can watch local surfers catch the perfect wave into shore. On the other side of the headland towards Ōkari is what surfers call the Nine Mile – a mussel reef that breaks best at low tide with 1-2m swells. There is nowhere better to observe the local birdlife, seals and dramatic night skies. The trail follows the old gold miners’ and Cobb and Co stagecoach route, which used the flat, sandy Nine Mile beach to transport people and goods south to Charleston. Evidence shows a small Māori village also once existed here, dating back to the 19th Century.
Section 5 Opening in early October!
Section Five, named Ōkari (Of garden), is one of the most impressive and beautiful sections of the Kawatiri Coastal Trail.
Currently under construction, this section of trail heads inland from the Ōkari causeway. Initially the trail follows the edge of the Okari salt marsh and wetland. This ecosystem area is of high natural value, including the spawning, feeding and migration of inanga, banded & shortjaw kokopu and the roosting, nesting & feeding of waterfowl and waders. Leaving the wetlands, the trail then rises gently onto a fertile farm terrace, offering expansive views of both the Paparoa Range and Tasman Sea. Travelling further inland the trail follows the Ōkari River through mixed beech & podocarp forest, an area where trail cams have captured an isolated population of great-spotted kiwi (roroa). After crossing the new Ōkari River suspension bridge, trail users head alongside the forest edge, then make their way up a slight rise before dropping into another rich and diverse conservation area. The trail exits this area of vegetation at Virgin Flat Road where the unconstructed sections; 6 Totara (Native tree growing in the area) and 7 (Rāhui (pou rāhui – tribal land marked by a post), begin.
Section 8, Waitakere (River with deep bed), better known to the old gold-diggers and their descendants as the Nile River, is also completed and open for use. Cruise over the award-winning Nile River suspension bridge, then gently work your way up through lush bush until you reach ‘Rotten Row’ in the historic gold mining town of Charleston, then make your way down to the coastline again, finishing your journey at the beautiful but historically treacherous Constant Bay. As with many of the West Coast’s ports, entering the harbour at Constant Bay was dangerous, with its shallow tidal waters, sand bar, narrow passage, and rocky cliffs. In a period of 13 years there were eight wrecks, four of which were totally lost, including lives. In October 1866 when the gold rush began, it was reported that 1200 men were on the ground at Charleston, a month later there were 3000 and by 1867 it was a well-established town with its population eventually peaking at between 8000 -12000.
The full trail will be open in mid-2024. The completed trail will offer spectacular natural views, as well as a glimpse into the region’s distinct biodiversity and hidden taonga. The Kawatiri Coastal Trail also tells the stories of our significant Māori and European heritage, including stories of the pounamu trail, Māori trading, gold, coal, farming, rail, shipping, flax and timber.