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The bush that sustains us

Waingake Waterworks Bush is a special place not many people even know exists, but it’s where Gisborne’s drinking water supply comes from. The Gisborne Herald’s Matai O’Connor organised a tour of the treatment plant and parts of the nationally-recognised 1100ha bush. This is the story of that unique place . . .

More than 400 metres above sea level, hidden down a long driveway and surrounded by trees, sits Gisborne’s Water Treatment Plant.

Gisborne City water is supplied from two main water catchments; the Mangapoike Dams (Williams, Clapcott and Sang) and the Waingake Bush Catchment QEII, which is 1100 hectares of podocarp forest recognised nationally for its unique ecological values.

The raw water from these sources is treated at the Waingake Water Treatment Plant, before travelling through a 30km-long pipeline into the city reticulation network and then to taps.

There are four people in the treatment plant who make sure everything runs as it should.

Gisborne also has a secondary treatment plant located at the Waipaoa River.

This augmentation plant was built in answer to the widespread devastation caused by Cyclone Bola in 1988. It draws water from the Waipaoa River and is essentially only used as a “back-up” supply during peak water demand in the height of summer and in emergency situations.

Most of Gisborne City’s water comes from the Waingake Water Treatment Plant.

Te Iwi o Ngai Tamanuhiri have mana whenua over the area which supplies the city’s main water supply through Maraetaha Incorporation.

Bella Hawkins, chair of Maraetaha Inc and a trustee of Tamanuhiri Tutu Poroporo Trust — the post-settlement governance entity for Ngai Tamanuhiri — accompanied the Herald’s team to observe this “majestic jewel” known as the Mangapoike Dams, progressing from Pamoa Station to the Waingake Waterworks Bush catchment and treatment plant.

Also on the trip were Allies Whakataka and Kay Robin of Ngai Tamanuhiri, GDC’s team leader for drinking water Judith Robertson, senior water supply officer Ralph Ogden, plant operator Brett Chisholm, Te Puni Kokiri Whenua Maori adviser Pania King and Te Runanga o Turanganui A Kiwa’s funding and contracts manager Julie Conder.

Ngai Tamanuhiri, Maraetaha Inc and GDC are working in partnership in a transformational project called Waingake Restoration Plan — which will address the ecological restoration of the 1100ha native bush and revegetation of about 5000ha back to native in the Pamoa Block.

Treat water with respect

A clear message on the day was that taking the land back to native vegetation can help reduce issues of erosion as well as help with the water quality.

In August of this year, the start of a major revegetation and restoration project at Waingake was marked by a tree-planting and mauri karakia ceremony.

Ms Hawkins shared history on the Waingake catchment and how Ngai Tamanuhiri have mana whenua over this area.

“In 1840 our tupuna Tawheo Pohatu of Ngai Tahupo signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“In 1868 approximately

1 million acres of Turanga lands were ceded to the Crown, of which 250,000 acres was Ngai Tamanuhiri.

“In 1869 Ngai Tahupo and Ngati Rangiwaho were recognised as mana whenua and the hapu evolved into Te Iwi o Ngai Tamanuhiri.

Sixty-two percent of Ngai Tamanuhiri land was lost due to “private alienations”, 11 percent were trust sales, 10 percent was Crown purchases and public works and only 17 percent of the land remained.

Maraetaha Incorporation is one of the three remaining land holdings of Ngai Tamanuhiri which, through successive undertakings of public works since the 19th century, has contributed to the Waingake Waterworks Estate.

“Without water we cannot survive,” Ms Hawkins said.

“History has a lot of grievances. Significant land blocks were taken from us.

“Land was alienated by the Public Works Act or privately sold.

“Moving forward, it’s about recognising the past and negotiating how we work together in the future.”

Ngai Tamanuhiri, Maraetaha Inc and GDC are working on a Memorandum of Partnership and a Memorandum of Understanding for how they become co-governors and co-partners to restore, maintain and enhance this taonga, te tipu o te wai.

“This is where the water supply comes from, it traverses through Maraetaha Inc, down the Waingake River, into the Te Arai River and then connects to the Turanganui-a-Kiwa community.

“All of us have different places, spaces, wants and needs for water.

“We encourage a greater understanding that water is a valuable resource, how we nurture and care for it as mana whenua, and our role as kaitiaki is to ensure we are using it wisely and in a way that’s sustainable.

“We need to appreciate the value it has for all of us.

“We need to treat it with more respect.

“City dwellers often don’t realise how much water they waste because they do not know where it comes from, they think it just comes out of a tap.

“Our own Muriwai community is currently not supplied with drinking water, it bypasses us due to the lay of the supply pipeline.”

The Waingake Restoration Programme is to return the whenua and waterways to what it once was, which includes the return of native fauna such as tuatara, kiwi and other nga manu katoa (native birds).

“A distinct reason is that when the water returns to its indigenous state, it has a purer quality where indigenous species will return back to the whenua.

“This supply is enhanced by the most natural form of filtration, te ngahere.

“The water supply, the bush and the whenua are naturally positioned to help our community nurture a source that is unique in Tairawhiti and we are all encouraged to do our part to protect it.

“This exotic pine forest will no longer be here in seven years time,” Ms Hawkins said.

This land offered a wealth of opportunities for the people of Tairawhiti, she said.

“We have identified key roles needed in our community to uplift and sustain water quality.”

She spoke about how there could be education programmes for the community, what that might look like and how it aligned with current curriculum and matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge).

“These are part of a wider iwi vision,” Ms Hawkins said.

“Planning a matauranga framework with and for our whanau and community includes raising the awareness for our future generations, by helping schools utilise this resource as part of our biodiversity and sustainability education.

“What’s important for us as mana whenua and iwi is that this supply is who we are, and how our iwi contributes to our community as Turanganui-a-Kiwa.

“We are really lucky that some of us walk in these spaces; some people don’t even know places like this exist in our backyard.

“People will want to come, see and learn the value this treasure has, how it works, it’s importance and how it connects us all together,” Ms Hawkins said.

Currently this site is protected by restricted access with a co-partnership between Ngai Tamanuhiri, Maraetaha Inc and GDC.

WILLIAMS DAM: This is the H.C. Williams Dam which is one of the main supplies of drinking water for Gisborne city. Picture by Ben Cowper
CLAPCOTT DAM: This is one of the three dams where Gisborne’s drinking water supply comes from. Picture by Ben Cowper
WATER IS LIFE: This is the Waingake Water treatment plant, hidden within the Waingake area. Picture by Ben Cowper
WATER WORKS: From left are GDC team leader drinking water Judith Robertson, GDC senior water supply officer Ralph Ogden, plant operator Brett Chisholm, Te Puna Kokiri Whenua Maori adviser Pania King, Maraetahi Inc chair Bella Hawkins, Allies Whakataka and Kay Robin of Ngai Tamanuhiri, and TROTAK funding and contracts manager Julie Conder. Picture by Liam Clayton