Ahead of the final weekend of beach closure to vehicles at Muriwai, Auckland Council park rangers are reflecting on a successful start to summer.
“We’re really stoked with how positive, understanding and respectful our visitors have been about closing the beach to vehicles over the holiday season and thank everyone for their support,” says acting Regional Parks Manager Scott De Silva.
“The feedback our teams are getting is that park users, including horse riders and many locals, have enjoyed the beach being vehicle free over the past few weeks.
"Most people we have encountered and explained the closure to, respect the rationale and decision behind the restrictions. We have only had one instance of a staff member meeting someone who was hostile about the closure.
“Our teams have seen three instances where people had driven out to Muriwai specifically to 4WD on the beach without knowing it was closed and one group who had come out to launch a jet ski. All of them were disappointed with the closure but understanding.
“One of the key reasons we introduced the ban was to reduce the fire risk over the busy period and so far, we’ve had no reports of fires. Keeping vehicles off the beach and dunes has also been valuable for the wildlife living in these coastal areas, which are often at risk and harmed when vehicles drive over dunes.
“Taken together, it’s been a great start to summer out at Muriwai.”
The beach will remain closed to vehicles until 10 January 2021.
Original story published 16 December 2020:
Muriwai Beach will be closed to vehicle access between Wednesday 23 December 2020 and Monday 10 January 2021.
Visitors to the popular west coast beach will still be able to park at all of the regional park car parks and access points, and walk onto the beach on foot.
Rodney Local Board Chair Phelan Pirrie says this is the first time the council, together with other agencies with an interest in Muriwai Beach, has chosen to close the beach to vehicles.
“Muriwai – the township, the beach and the surrounding area – is incredibly popular during the summer and holiday season and this year is likely to be no exception.
“For the first time, the agencies that have a management role in Muriwai have decided to stop vehicle access altogether during the busiest few weeks of summer.
“First and foremost, this decision is about safety and fire risk.
“This is an opportunity to limit vehicles in sensitive areas like the dunes and in near the adjacent forest where summer fire risk is extremely high
“When you have hundreds of people using the beach, including children running about and playing, it’s a no-brainer to remove vehicles from the mix,” he says.
The joint agency group of agencies that have responsibilities associated with the management of Muriwai, and are supportive of this summer’s initiative, includes Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, New Zealand Police, Department of Conservation, Ngā Maunga Whakahii o Kaipara Ngahere Ltd, Hancock Forestry, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, Muriwai First Response and Muriwai Surf Life Saving Club.
Access will be closed at Coast Road, Rimmer Road and Wilson Road. Tasman Road remains closed under normal seasonal restrictions.
Mace Ward, General Manager Parks, Sports and Recreation says the volume of vehicles accessing Muriwai Beach has increased significantly in recent years, both within the regional park and beyond the park boundary.
“When you have a popular recreation location that is also considered a driveable ‘road’ the mix of uses can lead to dire consequences.
“We have seen dozens of vehicle incidents over the years, some with tragic outcomes and others that are near misses, silly mistakes or clear cases of bad decision making by inexperienced drivers.
“Another disappointing fact is the damage that can be done to fragile dunes and coastal ecosystems by 4WD-ing, fire damage and the anti-social behaviour that can accompany the abuse of this privilege of driving on the beach,” says Mace.
A permit system was introduced in 2015 to manage the volume of traffic and to ensure drivers were aware of their responsibilities and restrictions when traveling along the beach.
For the 12 months up to June 2020, 2715 people had applied for and obtained a permit to drive a vehicle on Muriwai Beach. This is estimated to be less than 50 per cent of the actual number of vehicles that drive on the beach.
Concerns have also been raised regarding non-complying vehicles and road worthiness with some vehicles not having warrant of fitness, are unregistered and drivers not holding correct class of driver’s licence.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s Auckland Principal Rural Fire Officer Thomas Harre says summer heat, ongoing dry weather conditions and rogue fires lit in the back dunes is a recipe for disaster.
“Despite fires not being allowed on the beach or in the dunes, they are frequently lit and present a significant risk to dune vegetation and the adjacent Woodhill Forest.
“This is an ongoing problem which will be limited by the summer closure and will hopefully bring about some good behaviour change.
“Extinguishing a fire in hard to reach locations is difficult and we urge the public to be extremely careful with fire and fire-related activities this summer,” he says.
Tidal conditions and the remote location can restrict the ability of emergency responders to access these areas, increasing the risk from fire. For more information about fire safety this summer visit checkitsalright.nz.
Signs at the park and by closed entrances, variable mobile signs at major SH16 turn-offs to Muriwai, and the presence of park staff and Police will all be part of the summer focus on Muriwai Beach.