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Keeping the tides at bay

Famous for its rugged scenery and wild waves, Wairarapa’s south coast is a mecca for surfers.

In recent years, however, the giant swells have meant only one thing for residents – a disappearing road.

With a second EcoReef now installed along a notoriously eroded section of Cape Palliser tarmac, it’s hoped that regular road closures and single lanes will be a thing of the past.

EcoReef, the company behind the road-saving structure, said the design of the reef was inspired by “one of natures’ strongest shapes” – the hexagon.

It’s a simple concept.

The structure of interlocking Masterton-made concrete blocks – each of them 500kg, 1.4 metres wide and filled with local aggregate – protects the eroding coastline by diffusing wave energy evenly.

Over two and a half days in early February, the EcoReef team and a handful of contractors completed the six metre high installation at Turner’s Bay, the sea-battered stretch of Cape Palliser Rd. EcoReef designer and co-creator Fred Waiker said the second build on the coast came together easily.

“Everything flowed really well and the construction was quite rapid.”

In 2011, the South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] and Greater Wellington Regional Council agreed to a 35-year consent to use coastal barriers along a 25km stretch.

In 2020, SWDC floated the idea of EcoReef, with then-councillor and Palliser resident Brain Jephson saying the existing rock protection was failing under the battering from the sea.

After that, several boxes still needed to be ticked to secure resource consent, but Waiker said it was worth the pursuit.

“The key thing is a significant repair has been made to a very vulnerable road.

“And we’ve done it on such a wild coastline.

“We had many opportunities to take easier jobs, but we want to be able to say – hand on heart – it works here, therefore it works anywhere.”

That sentiment saw EcoReef sponsor the first reef near Whatarangi Bluff at a cost – according to SWDC – of $46,000 in March 2022.

So far, it has proved a success, weathering storms that ripped chunks out of the road further east in April and forced the district council to close the road overnight and lower speed limits to 30kmh.

With a price tag for the reef and repair at Turner’s Bay estimated at $1.2 million after giant swells destroyed the road in May, the hope for residents – and Waka Kotahi NZTA’s emergency fund – is that the second EcoReef will also deliver.

Waiker said the inquiries received by EcoReef have certainly ramped up in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, with dozens of emails and phone calls, but the company is currently at capacity.

“We’re a small business, but we’re scaling up production. However, it takes a few months to build up stock,” he said.

In the meantime, Waiker confirmed the company was engaged with two more projects in Wairarapa – a bridge in South Featherston and a retaining wall in Castlepoint.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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