A man who attempted to fix his car in a public carpark spilt oil near drains leading to Whangarei Harbour and was quickly dobbed in by passers-by.

Transfield Services' John Langley, contracted to Whangarei District Council, was racing to clean up several litres of oil on Thursday and Friday, after a man decided to take his engine apart about 20m from the water.

"He had his car jacked up and there was oil everywhere. It's an environmental hazard in a tourist area," Mr Langley said.

Jimi Hart was staying in a caravan nearby and said the man was a "peculiar chap" who became covered in oil.

Advertisement

"For a start, he's in the marine area and it's quite clearly sign posted ... All of us [caravan dwellers] have to be fully self-contained. Even if we drop grey water we can get serious fines."

Police were called and the job was referred to Whangarei District Council, who towed the vehicle and arranged a clean-up.

WDC Group manager district living Paul Dell said council would seek to recover costs from the man.