Common courtesy could help save the Horowhenua coastal environment without the need to enforce beach road rules to the letter of the law.
The beauty of all Horowhenua beaches is you can drive a vehicle on them, but rough-riding and reckless roadsters were bringing attention to the fact that it was still a highway in the eyes of the law.
Derek Prior and Ray Perry, both members of the Foxton and Beach Community Patrol, claim that speed limits set between 5km and 30km at beaches were often exceeded, and vehicles were often traversing off limit areas of the beach.
"We don't want people to stop having fun ... people just need to be aware," they said.
The dunes themselves were a unique ecosystem that needed to be protected and it was important that vehicles were kept off them.
Prior said there needed to be an increased awareness of the need to preserve the beach environment, but also a need for increased safety.
The stretch of coastline was used by recreational fisherman, swimmers, runners and mountain bikers alike, or people just taking their dog for a walk.
"We frequently get complaints from people saying some idiot nearly mowed me down," he said.
Prior said he feared it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously hurt or killed. Children often ran from parked cars towards the surf in the path of speeding beach traffic.
"They often speed and it's putting people at risk. Kids run to the water," he said.
Perry and Prior were both former members of the now defunct Foxton Beach Wardens and had seen the dangers of reckless driving up close.
When their Suzuki Jimny vehicle was rammed by someone driving a stolen car on the beach it spelt the end of their organisation.
Prior said the vehicle was written off by the insurance company and a decision was made to disband Foxton Beach Wardens as an organisation.
"He smashed into me. He rammed me," he said.
It was a tough life as beach warden, as they only had the capacity to provide warnings or highlight dangers and provide information. They were regular incidents of verbal abuse.
"We were told to **** ****," he said.
Both men had since joined forces with the Foxton and Beach Community Patrol, which had taken over the duties of beach wardens in watching over the beach.
Perry said it was important to note there were a group of beach users that were very obliging and used quad bikes or motorbikes in a non-threatening manner, often to tow fishing gear to the water edge.
And the beach itself by its very nature was the perfect playground for an off-road adventure, with an open expanse of sand tempting for any recreational rider.
Aside from the safety aspect, both men were also concerned about the dune environment at the beach as it was home to unique ecosystem of native flora and fauna that helped the dunes keep their shape.
Large-scale blowouts of sand dunes on a coastal environment often occur from small areas of plant disturbance. Exposed sand dries quickly and is moved by severe winds. Roots from adjacent plants can be exposed and when they die it created more erosion.
Perry said the dunes were important for the protection of Foxton Beach itself from severe weather events.
"They're not there just to look nice," he said.
There was a list of purpose-built tracks in the region where people could go to ride off-road vehicles at speed.
Horowhenua District Council had gone to great lengths by erecting fencing in an effort to keep vehicles from driving on the dunes.
But Prior said within days the fences were cut to allow vehicle access.
"They just tear it down," he said.
Walking through the dunes at the beach yesterday and the men stumbled across thickets of broken glass in the sand and also recently lit bonfires not too far from a tinder-dry state forest.
There was currently a district-wide fire ban on all beaches in Horowhenua imposed by Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).
Meanwhile, the group had confirmation in a letter from Foxton Beach Police that the beach front was deemed a public road under section 2 of the Land Transport Act 1998.
- No person can operate an unregistered or unwarranted vehicle on the beach, or any vehicle that was not up to warrant of fitness standard.
- All persons using a motor vehicle on the beach must hold a current drivers licence to operate the motor vehicle.
- "Motor vehicle" includes beach buggies, quad bikes and motocross bikes.
- Driving behaviour is limited to what you would expect on a normal road. For example, speeding, driving in a careless or dangerous manner is not acceptable.
- The operating of a vehicle in the dunes is not permitted.