Don’t be an egg: our dunes are no place for motorbikes
We’ve all heard about the problem of storms and rising seas damaging our dunes but there’s another threat: people.
Council environment and ecological services team leader Andy McKay says people riding offroad motorbikes and quad bikes are an ongoing issue on the Kāpiti Coast beaches and dune systems.
“Taking motorbikes offroad is a legitimate activity, and many riders are locals too, but keeping them off the dunes and beaches is a constant headache for Council and Police,” he says.
Those not in love with the sport complain about the noise, the smell, the danger, the damage, and the perceived lack of enforcement. Council received 15 complaints about motorbikes on beaches between October 2021 and July 2022.
“It’s frustrating, because our beach bylaws make it clear that two-wheel motorbikes are not allowed on our beaches. End of story.
“We treat other motor vehicles, including four-wheel drives and quad bikes, slightly differently because we recognise the need for people to use vehicles to launch boats or get their gear to fishing spots but only via designated access points and in permitted areas. We also have still strict rules to keep speeds below 10kph and only use vehicles for these activities in permitted areas.
“What’s more, in Kāpiti no vehicles of any kind are allowed in the dunes, except for emergency vehicles,” Andy says.
“There are very good reasons for this. Our dune ecosystems are home to many vulnerable species of native birds, plants, lizards, and insects. The New Zealand dotterel, or tūturiwhatu, is one of our most endangered birds and is particularly at risk. DoC (Department of Conservation) estimates there are only about 2500 left in the whole country.
“A Greater Wellington Regional Council survey in 2020 indicated less than 50 nesting in our district, mostly around the Waitohu and Ōtaki River estuaries, so we have a responsibility to protect them.”
The dotterels nest in the sand and their eggs and chicks are also sand-coloured, so they are incredibly vulnerable to predators and people, dogs, horses, and motorbikes, he says.
“These birds show amazing behaviour to protect their young. The parent pretends to be injured to draw predators away from the nest. If you see a bird behaving like this, it has eggs or chicks nearby so leave it alone and move away from the area,” Andy says.
“Council, DoC, and volunteers rope off any nesting areas we know about but that doesn’t mean dotterels and others aren’t nesting in other parts of the dune and beach areas. Nesting season starts around September so now is the time when they are particularly vulnerable.
“We’re telling motorbike riders and others: don’t be an egg! Keep off the dunes!”
Dunes protect our coast from flooding
The dunes are important for other reasons. They protect the land, houses, and public assets behind them from the sea, especially during king tides and storms.
They’re also critical for protecting our coastline from rising sea levels due to climate change. Protecting our dunes is a key adaptation measure being looked at by the Takutai Kāpiti coastal adaptation project.
“Dunes constantly change by eroding then building back up but that doesn’t mean it's okay for erosion to be made worse by human activity like offroad motorbikes,” Andy McKay says.
“The Kāpiti Coast District is lucky to have several voluntary dune care and restoration groups. Their contribution to caring for our ecosystem is huge. They plant natives like kōwhangatara (spinifex), pīngao and wiwi that are perfectly adapted to trap sand and help the dunes build back up after being eroded by the sea. Motorbikes and quads wreck this vegetation and interfere with dune reformation,” he says.
Driftwood washed up after storms also plays a special role, sitting at the base of the dunes and providing a natural barrier that acts as the foundation for more dune-building.
“That’s why our beach bylaw prohibits people from removing large amounts of driftwood. You can only take as much as you can carry on foot, and you’re not allowed to move or cut it up with power equipment.”
Driftwood and other debris shallowly buried under reforming dune faces can also be dangerous for unsuspecting motorbike riders, he says.
What can we do about motorbikes on the beach?
Council can only enforce rules for vehicles parked in no-go areas on beaches. If they’re moving, it’s a Police matter. Police say by the time they receive and respond to a complaint, the motorbikes are usually long gone and unless they have a bike, car, or trailer numberplate to follow up there’s nothing they can do.
Both organisations advise people not to take matters into your own hands. Don’t lecture or get into a stoush. If you can, take a photo or get a plate number and report it to Police right away.
If you have friends or family who ride offroad, remind them why the dunes and beaches are not suitable and talk to them about alternative places to go.
Where can motorbikes go?
Joining a club is a great place to start. Motorbike enthusiasts don’t want their sport to get a bad rap so they make every effort to put on events and set up trails that don’t cause problems for non-fans. They also teach riding skills and etiquette to keep riders safe and well-behaved. Look for a club online or ask at your motorbike repair shop.
Greater Wellington Regional Council has an extensive network of roads and old logging tracks through the regenerating bush and pine trees of the Akatarawa Forest. Some of these tracks are open to the public for quad and trail biking, and there is a trail bike zone through the forest. Riders must have a permit which you can get instantly online.
Find out about trail riding in the Akatarawa Forest.
Isn’t the beach a road?
It’s a technical designation. Beaches are considered roads under the Land Transport Act so they can be controlled, and rules enforced by Police.
Councils set speed limits and other rules, including where motor vehicles can and cannot go. Our beach bylaw bans motor vehicles on many parts of the beach. The aim is to keep our coastal environment a safe place for fragile habitats and people. We’re currently looking at other ways of keeping vehicles off beaches where they’re not permitted to go.
Become familiar for the rules for motor vehicles on our beaches and never drive on the dunes.