Holidaymakers who make the long drive north to Maitai Bay – and there are hundreds every summer – will see a new family at the remote but popular Northland beach this year.
Two traditionally carved pou have been erected on Maitai Pa, overlooking the bay, to act as symbolic protectors of its waters and sea life.
They represent the tupuna/ancestors of the iwi, Ngati Kahu. They were placed earlier this summer as a two-year rahui on fishing and diving came into force off the tip of Karikari Peninsula, 2½ hours' drive north of Whangaraei.
Ngati Kahu and two local hapu, Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri, have declared a no-take zone in Maitai Bay, neighbouring Waikato Bay and into the Pacific Ocean, until March 2020 in the hope it will allow sea life to recover.
For iwi member, local real estate agent and keen diver Hazely Windelborn, the marine environment under the bays resembles a wasteland. Kina barrens have taken over, driving out seaweed, fish and shellfish life. Marine biologists blame over-fishing.
Ngati Kahu decided to invoke the rahui about a year ago. "It took us 12 months to commission and carry out the carvings," Windelborn says. The iwi held hui and consultation with residents and bach-owners; iwi, whanau and hapu members, as well as the Ministry for Primary Industries. It supports the rahui but won't actively enforce it."
Windelborn says he and his cousin have dived in the area recently and "there are already a lot more snapper and crayfish in just a few weeks".
Most holidaymakers at Maitai Bay – a shoe-in on our judges' shortlist of 10 candidates for New Zealand's Best Beach – won't be affected as they swim, snorkel, kayak, paddle, camp or laze at the idyllic spot, previously known as "Matai Bay".
Windelborn explains the name translates arises from the arrival of an early European ship, the Shepherd, about 200 years ago. Previously unseen in Aotearoa, its metal nails glinted in the sun, giving the bay its name – Maitai translates as "shining treasure". He says the difference between spellings is due to differences in pronunciation among Maori dialects.
Will Gowans, one of many who nominated Maitai Bay, says it's the country's best beach "because of its clean, crystal-clear waters and its beautiful, white, soft sand.
"The feeling of soft, hot sand rubbing between your toes is the best feeling ever, and the beach glistens in the scorching hot sun that creates the best Kiwi summer holiday.
"At one end there are rocks where you can snorkel and see the wild sea life. The clear blue water where the sun shines makes it feel like you're in the tropical waters of Fiji.
"When sunbathing, you can hear hundreds of tui that fly in and out of the bright red pohutukawa.
"A five-minute walk from the lushest beach leads you to the campground where families are enjoying freshly-caught fish with the reliable Watties tomato sauce being put to good use" (perhaps not this summer or next, Will).
One of our judges had to admit favouritism when Maitai Bay appeared on the long list of 26 beaches around the country. "Showing my true colours, Matai Bay is in my top three beaches," admitted Surf Life Saving NZ's Matt Williams.
"If you're looking for a three-dimensional beach as opposed to a one- or two-dimensional beach where you can enjoy the view and take a nice picture, this has it in spades. At Matai Bay, you're spoiled for choice of activities."
Singer-surfer Jamie McDell enjoys its clear waters, while Waikato University coastal researcher Karin Bryan brings a different perspective: "What I love … is the natural backdrop. You've got the dune plants in the front and the proper trees, no plantation trees."
THE TOP 10 BEACHES
• Castlepoint, Wairarapa
• Hahei, Coromandel
• Kaiteriteri, Tasman
• Matai Bay, Northland
• Matapouri, Northland
• New Chums, Coromandel
• Opito Bay, Coromandel
• Taupo Bay, Northland
• Te Arai, Auckland
• Whangamata, Coromandel
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