Totaranui campground has held an almost mythical quality for me. I had heard so many people talk about it, how they return every year but I had never been there myself. The ballot system over Christmas implied that, like some private schools, you had to be part of ‘the establishment’ to get to go.
A moment of relaxation at Totaranui
But when I heard friends were taking their child out of school to go during the off season, I was quick to gatecrash the party. Nervous about asking for more time off work so soon after Christmas my husband was taken aback when his boss said, “You have to go! Take at least a week, here borrow my kayak!”
Feeling a little nervous about the long drive ahead of us, we left Christchurch at 4 am. The children were so excited but were asleep again by 5 am and we were in Murchison for breakfast.
Use of the boss’s kayak was an added bonus
We arrived at the campsite early afternoon. The colours were extreme – sky was blue; sea was green and the sands were as golden as all the advertising photos promise. It reminded me of cheesecake – the moment when you pour the melted butter into the crushed biscuits – mmmm.
As soon as the tent was up, we were heading to the lagoon for the first of many swims. We were sharing a bay with four other families, all Totaranui regulars. They knew how to make the most of the place, especially at this quieter time of year.
Being Totaranui novices we learned a lot from them. They had bought flannelette pyjamas as the days were hot but nights were cool. And as well as solar showers they had bought black plastic boxes which they filled up with water every morning and sat in the sun for the children to wash in after each trip to the beach.
The children were in heaven. There was no mention of the TV or the computer all week. Instead they played and dug in the sand with their new friends, crafting mermaid tails and mini pa sites with driftwood. They learned how to paddle a kayak. They stayed up late to see the stars, cooked marshmallows over an open fire. They explored the rock pools, saw a stingray, hermit crabs, and kina. They built little boats out of harakeke and tested their sail-ability on the lagoon. They got bashed over by big waves and wrote postcards to their cousin.
Discovering the rock pools at Totaranui campground
The children all picked up a Kiwi Ranger booklet and earned a badge featuring weka and rata as well as the signature stretch of golden sand. The booklet is a great prompt to take time to explore further – it wasn’t until our third visit exploring rock pools that we spotted red sea anemones come to life under the water! A visit from a juvenile black-backed gull to our campsite meant William grabbed his booklet to quickly sketch the bird and note its features, while his campsite journal entry gave him pause to think and record all the special memories from his trip.
In exchange for a week out of school, he also had to fill in a diary entry each day. Some of his entries were quite poetic; “cutting through the waves in the kayak was like killing the waves and the splashes were like splashes of blood” (a bit dark but that’s boys for you!). Some things he didn’t mention were apparently a secret – like the secret jumping rock (Spoilsport Mum!).
Fun on the beach
The highlight for us all was the night walk to see the glow worms. The sun was setting pale and pink just as we made our way across the lagoon. The kids were all rugged up against the cold night air. As dusk fell the glow worms appeared under banks and amongst tree ferns, little sparks in the dark. It was better than a class room as they excitedly asked lots of questions.
On the return journey each child was given a glow stick, which dispelled any fears of the dark. A ruru called directly above us and a possum ran up a tree and glared.
Totaranui at sunset
It was a trip to remember. Now I know why families go back there every year. Once you have been, you will know too.
It started with a broken dotterel egg on a traffic ridden Far North beach.
New Zealand dotterel at Ahipara
A heartbroken Ahipara local phoned the Kaitaia Area office to report that children had smashed some New Zealand dotterel eggs on Ahipara Beach. Doug Klever and his wife Jackie were devastated. They had been watching the dotterels struggle to breed on the beach for three years. Each year, the eggs were either washed away by high tides, or broken by children or vehicles.
One of the little dotterel chicks
Ahipara Beach is an area with a history of ongoing complaints about careless driving and irresponsible behaviour. DOC and Northland Regional Council (NRC) have been working together over the past five years to run beach safety and driving awareness campaigns, with some success. However, locals had been reluctant to get involved.
Doug wanted to raise awareness about the dotterels’ plight. Community Relations Programme Manager, Carolyn Smith, sent out a media release, which was picked up by the local papers.
Carolyn recalls the second phone call she received from Doug – this time it was good news. The dotterels had laid three more eggs.
Kaitaia Visitor Assets Ranger Kerry helps man the NRC stall
Another media release was written and a local plumbing firm donated some pipes for the dotterels to hide in. The dotterels managed to keep the eggs safe this time, and three little chicks soon emerged.
When word got out that the eggs had hatched, dotterel fever hit the Far North. The local newspaper editor devoted front page space to stories and photos, and DOC launched a ‘Name the NZ Dotterel chick’ competition on the DOC Far North Facebook page.
The community had fallen in love with the cute little chicks. When the police were called by a resident, who spotted a boy chasing the chicks with a net, a police officer immediately rushed to the beach to make sure no harm was being done to the little chicks. Locals joked that you can wait hours for the police to respond to a call, but look out if a dotterel chick is in danger!
Carolyn then introduced Doug to Laura Shaft, Northland Regional Council’s (NRC’s) Coast Care Coordinator, to see how she could help.
Coast care kids filling up their water bottles – saving dotterels is thirsty work!
Laura and Carolyn helped Doug set up a community meeting, and from that a fledgling Coast Care group was formed. Funding was obtained from NRC, and a planting and fencing programme begun to restore the degraded dunes around the dotterels’ nesting site.
Kaitaia Community Relations Ranger, Denice Gillespie, accompanied Doug to Ahipara School to talk about the project. It was a timely visit as the school had already been using resources from DOC and NRC to teach pupils about dotterels. The children were excited about getting involved and set about designing signs to educate people about the precious dotterels, and how to help them survive.
Haami Piripi with his family
Doug was also keen to work with the local hapu, and so Denice talked to Te Runanga O Te Rarawa CEO and Ahipara elder, Haami Piripi.
“Haami met with Doug and was immediately sold on the project. Te Rarawa decided that a Punanga (sanctuary) would be placed over the area that the dotterels were breeding in, restricting vehicles and skurfing.”
And so, on a stunning spring morning in November last year, DOC, NRC, Ahipara School, local residents and iwi gathered at Ahipara beach, alongside Doug and Jackie, to erect signs and carry out karakia over the Punanga.
Since then, apart from a few minor problems with people ignorant of the new rules, the dotterels’ future in their new sanctuary is looking bright!
Doug says nowadays any locals that cause trouble on the beach get a visit from Haami.
“Haami explains to them what the Punanga is about. Once people understand, they are supportive.”
Te Rarawa, along with two other Te Hiku (Far North) iwi, has recently signed their final deed of settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. Part of the settlement includes the establishment of a Te Oneroa a Tohe (Ninety Mile Beach) forum to manage the beach, consisting of Iwi, District Council and DOC. Haami says once this happens (possibly 2013), iwi will be in a position to enforce the rules that the community and iwi want over the beach.
“We need to take responsibility as Tangata Whenua of this place and take up the leadership role on these sorts of issues. I will be advocating for no vehicles at all on the stretch of beach where the Punanga is because it’s not necessary to drive here,” Haami says.
Carolyn shared the story with Radio New Zealand reporter, Lois Williams. So Lois interviewed Doug, Haami, and some of the Ahipara school children. The story aired just after Christmas, and is an inspiring and heart-warming tale of how a community is coming together to make positive change.
Doug, Haami and the Ahipara with some of their signs
For Carolyn, the story highlights how change can come from within a community, without the need for agencies to take over. “I’ve always been clear that our role is to support.
As for Doug—our dotterel lover is now known locally as ‘Dotterel Doug.’ His story is best summed up in a statement he gave to Lois;
“There are now footprints in the sand where there used to be tyre tracks. I would never have believed this was possible!”
And a final update on the three dotterel chicks—all three fledged successfully!