From Home-Grown to High-Tech on a Maori Lake
July 11, 2017
By Robert Wilkes
Caution: this is a story of marina redevelopment and expansion in New Zealand that contains a number of challenging Māori names. Be undaunted. It’s an inspirational story well worth the effort.
Lake Taupō is considered the “beating heart” of the North Island by Māori. The lake bed is formed by a huge volcanic crater and is owned by Ngati Tūwharetoa, a Māori tribe made up of 26 hapū, or sub-tribes. Motuoapa Marina nestles on the shore of a village of the same name. Now that you have mastered these challenging Māori names, we begin.
New Zealand is a new land that rose from the sea as the result of the massive collision of tectonic plates. Lake Taupō is in a volcano caldera or crater formed by multiple eruptions over 300,000 years. The last major eruption 1,800 years ago may have been the natural phenomenon noted at the time by chroniclers in China and Rome. Located in the middle of the North Island, the 623 sq. km lake is the largest in New Zealand. Major population centers are three hours south and north, notably Wellington and Auckland. The lake is dotted with stunning cliff-side Māori carvings and visitors enjoy fishing excursions and adventure tours. Remarkably, but not in New Zealand, there are ski resorts not more than 30 minutes away.
The original marina was built fifty to sixty years ago by local boating enthusiasts and members of social organizations who wanted a place to keep a boat on the lake. They did it with grit and sweat on weekends. They created a cozy marina for family boating in a beautiful setting; some say it has the greatest trout fishing in the world. All the slips are permanently rented by local residents and boaters who drive up from the cities.
Ready for renewal!
Unfortunately, there were no hydrologists among the volunteers. While the lake water just outside the marina is always pristine, the water inside did not flush and was stagnant, algae-choked and infested with invasive catfish. There were plenty of other issues. An island took up valuable space in the middle of the basin. Boats berthed around the perimeter were pile-tied with their bows to a crumbling timber sea wall. The “boaties,” many of them aging, had to clamber onto the pointy end with their groceries in their arms and shuffle alongside the deckhouse to the cockpit.
Motuoapa Marina was loved, but long past its useful life. There was no water, no electricity, no security, no lighting and no services. Part of the marina was on the boundary of private land and half the boaters were effectively trespassing to get to their boats. Worst of all, due to a lake level that fluctuates by 1.4 meters over a year, boaters couldn’t access their berths or navigate the channel during low water.
And you think your marina has problems!
A new harbormaster takes charge.
As noted, the lakebed is owned by Ngāti Tūwharetoa. The lake boating facilities are owned by the “Crown” (as the New Zealand government is called), and managed by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). The Lake Taupō Harbormaster is employed by DIA, and is responsible for the maintenance, upkeep and safety of four marinas, numerous jetties and 17 boat ramps. The harbormaster’s office is in Taupō, 40 kilometers north of Motuoapa. The tribe, as owners of the lakebed, receives an annual payment from the Crown for providing access to Lake Taupō and their permission is required for any renewal project.
The DIA harbormaster, Philip King, completed a career as a superyacht captain in the Caribbean and returned to New Zealand to settle down and start a family. He became harbormaster in 2008 and in 2009 initiated a survey of all the Crown assets on the lake. The renovation of Motuoapa Marina was high on the list of projects and had been on the drawing board since the late 1990s.
King and the DIA developed an asset management plan and went to the Crown with a proposal for funds for capital improvements. The plan was approved in 2011. “Prior to the asset management plan we had 34,000 NZD dollars for capital improvements on the entire lake,” said King, “which was impossible. During our planning phase we touched base with Bellingham Marine for some concept ideas that we needed and they were helpful.”
In 2015 the DIA approved 6 million NZD (3.9m Euro) for the Motuoapa Marina project. Tenders were offered and several dock manufacturers and civil engineering companies responded. Seay Earthmovers, a local company based in Taupō, won the bid for the civil work. Bellingham Marine was named contractor for the docks and dock installation. “We had several competitive bids and chose Bellingham Marine,” said King, “based on reputation, technology and cost. We liked some of the product differences they offered, particularly the new FRP thru-rods.”
Resource consent and planning.
The original marina was built by the community well before resource consent applications were required. The process to be granted resource consent to build a marina in New Zealand is long and requires patience. The public consultation process included boat owners, the local community, government departments and the Māori hapū, whose permission was required. “We had extensive consultations with the affected hapū,” said King, “and got their support. We also had to address environmental and cultural issues and file the required studies and reports.”
Twenty-seven variations of the design were considered before a consensus was reached. “We had been focusing on a berth configuration similar to the existing layout,” said King, “when a couple of my team (Alex Dickie and Rod Vennell) suddenly had a penny-drop moment and saw it in a new way. Now it seems so obvious. We’re very confident in the final design and layout.”
Bruce Birtwistle, General Manager Bellingham Marine, added, “The process was further complicated because this is the first project the DIA has done of this kind in the interior, they are not normally involved in the marina business. Working with the DIA team has proved rewarding. They have been quick to accept ideas and make them work.”
Removal of invasive species.
Lake Taupō is a world famous trout fishery, with brown and rainbow trout introduced in the late 1900s from North American stock. The redevelopment of the site required humane removal of all fish prior to dredging or construction. Crews captured 3,000 catfish living in the basin and recycled them for fertilizer. “The catfish are an invasive pest,” said King. “They compete with trout for food sources and eat juvenile trout. We were delighted to reduce the catfish population.”
Earthworks and dredging began in 2016. The work included excavation and removal of the island, and a reclamation of part of the lake. The design implemented a zero cut to fill balance of the dredged material (approximately 40,000 cubic meters), which formed the reclamation. Seay Earthmovers also owns a quarry and supplied the boulders for the sea wall protecting the reclamation.
The opening of the new marina was scheduled for April, but is delayed until July 2017. The old timber wall proved fragile and failed in several places during dredging. Seay and Bellingham Marine have been requested to replace it with steel sheetpiles. Additionally, work in parts of the site was halted with the arrival of nesting black-billed gulls, which have the distinction of being the most threatened gull species in the world.
New technology pontoons.
The marina’s new Unifloat pontoons are arranged in a 158 slip configuration with rounded-end finger-pier berths from 8m to 14m in length. The pontoons have New Zealand-grown treated pine walers, aluminum pile guides, aluminum gangways and security gates. There will be electrical power pedestals and potable water at the slips.
The pontoons incorporate FRP thru-rods and nylon nuts manufactured in a process called pultrusion. The material is pulled through a die rather than pushed as in the more common extrusion process. The FRP thru-rods are corrosion free and have resilience that allows them to retain tension over time, virtually eliminating the need to retighten the nuts. The FRP thru-rods contribute to the corrosion resistance and low-maintenance of the dock system.
The docks were manufactured in Auckland and transported to the site by truck. Bellingham Marine’s Auckland plant serves New Zealand and the South Pacific as far as Guam.
Creating basin circulation.
The water quality situation was critical. “We installed a fresh water pumping system that extends 400m outside of the marina,” said King. “We have a 400m pipe with 500mm diameter that will pick up pristine water from 3m deep where the water is cooler and pump it into the marina at 200 liters per second. Marina water will be refreshed every 72 hours and it takes 72 hours for algae to form. Our three-pronged approach to defeat algae is cool water, fresh water, and constant movement. We’ll be able to see the lake bottom through pristine water and we anticipate trout and smelt will form habitat in the basin.”
A public resource.
The new marina will be a vast improvement, with water, electricity, secure gangways, bathroom facilities and a quadruple boat ramp. “We are creating a beach and a large green space,” said King. “The community has never had a swimming beach and we’re looking forward to seeing families there.”
“This is not a bigshot developer project,” said King. “We are creating a public resource. But we would like to think that the new marina will be the catalyst for economic development, especially for southern Lake Taupō.”
Bellingham’s Birtwistle said, “Philip King brought the energy and patience to work with the various groups and stakeholders to bring the project across the line. He wanted to do it right and he had the vision to see the potential. He can look back with satisfaction at what has been accomplished.”