During the Covid-19 lockdown New Zealanders were asked to stay home unless they were essential workers or had to complete necessary tasks.

Most people responded, and their sacrifice enabled our country to return to a type of normality with most restrictions lifted.

However, some selfish people thought the requirements during level 4 and 3 were for others, certainly not for them.

They took advantage of the situation or simply flouted the rules. When reports came through of campers setting up at Puwheke Beach the police were initially called in.

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However, they could not be there every day, so locals had to take control of the situation before it got out of hand.

There were increasing reports of fishing, vehicles damaging the dunes, and other behaviour out of step with the Government's guidelines for level 4.

DoC ranger Haina Tamehana plants native grass at the Puwheke dunes. Photo / Leena Taylor
DoC ranger Haina Tamehana plants native grass at the Puwheke dunes. Photo / Leena Taylor

The Department of Conservation in partnership with local marae and other community members, installed barriers to restrict vehicle access to the beach and to the maunga Puwheke.

The latter was blocked off as reports of campers on the maunga came through and a management plan was needed.

The barriers consisted of substantial concrete blocks and were installed for the period of the lockdown. Sadly it didn't take long for those with an entitled attitude to drive around them, causing more damage to banks, dunes and vegetation, or drag them away.

Northland Regional Council Coastcare coordinator Laura Shaft said Puwheke was a relatively unmodified dune system with some rare and threatened plant species including sand daphne (Pimelea villosa) and sand coprosma (Coprosma acerosa) both classified as at risk/declining.

The area has, however, been severely damaged by vehicles. The extent of the damage can be seen clearly from the air.

As well as the obvious physical damage vehicles create, they also spread weed species. Even common exotic grasses are very significant weeds in the dune area, displacing native species and disrupting natural dune function.

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The Karikari Peninsula is part of a tombolo cluster of broad, sandy land-bridges, wetlands, dune lakes and coastal landforms that link an ancient archipelago of islands, beneath which lie buried kauri forests.

According to the Northland Conservation Management Strategy this is a protected area.

The strategy defines conservation as the "preservation and protection of natural and historic resources for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations".

This is exactly what local iwi, DoC and other community members are trying to achieve at Puwheke and other sites across the peninsula.

Once the lockdown period ceased, the concrete slabs were moved to enable access up the maunga to the first carpark.

"It was never intended to be a permanent fixture," DoC ranger Haina Tamehana said.

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Now large boulders have been installed at Puwheke Beach to guide traffic to use the one entrance on to the beach. This has been done to protect the marginal strip along the dunes where constant vehicle traffic is causing erosion and damage.

"We want one entrance, not six," Ms Tamehana said.

A long-term management plan is to be developed in partnership with local iwi.

This will respect the cultural, ecological and biological values of the maunga and dunes.

Iwi have kaitiaki status in the area and view it as the birthplace of Ngāti Kahu.

After the boulders were installed local iwi, DoC, Kaitiaki Rangers and other community members held a working bee to plant 140 locally sourced plants.

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These were placed between and behind the boulders, leaving several access points for walkers to access the area beyond. It is hoped the plants will create an additional protection to the dunes as well as further beautifying the area.

The plants were nurtured and provided by Sana Ryan from Waikura Native Plant Nursery, which is based on the peninsula. Signs explaining the importance of protecting the dunes have also been erected.

The group hopes the public will allow the dunes to recover and give the new plantings a chance to grow.