Washdyke lagoon, Timaru and the coastal track - a breath of fresh air.

On the north side of Timaru at the top of the Showgrounds Hill drive down Bridge Rd, towards the Smithfield Freezing works and just after you cross the railway underpass bridge there is a stile that leads to a walking track that heads around to the right back towards Timaru and rock pools at low tide at Smith Beach. Expect it to be refreshing and noisy from all the bird chatter. You will also observe the volcanic rock, where an old lava stream met the sea and the old WW2 gun emplacements from the lower track. The area is beautiful on a stormy day with waves battering the coast.

August 2011

August 2011. Photo taken by M.T. Looking north eat towards Mt. Peel. Photo taken on a stormy day. 

24 March 2016

Can the shrinkage of the lagoon be stopped?

The Washdyke Lagoon, a coastal link for birds is a shallow coastal lake on Department of Conservation land between Washdyke and north side of Timaru near Smithfield is a wildlife refugee. Washdyke Creek flows into the western side of lagoon and the Seadown Drain, a man-made drain, that drains farmland, flows south into the lagoon. The sand and gravel barrier impedes fresh water flow to the sea. Erosion at the Washdyke Lagoon has been recorded at about 1.2 metres a year over the last 30 years. The lagoon area in 1881 was about 251 hectares. An area estimated to be between 62 hectares (Todd 1989), and 48 hectares (Kirk and Lauder 2000).  In 2015 the area is now 90% reduced, half of the reserve lost to coastal erosion and in under fifty years the natural bank will be gone and the area reclaimed by the sea. The area was only 20ha. (The Timaru Courier 16 Feb. 2017).  he lagoon reserve is utilised for bird watching, walking, fishing, photography, sunrises watching, field trips, whitebaiting and fishing, accessing the beach and general recreation. There are native fish, eels and cockabullies are present. Problems include littering, ocean born rubbish as well as suburban rubbish. Domestic and feral cats and rodents are killing young birds. There are rodent bait stations behind the fence at Smithfield chained down. Gorse and shrub competing with native saltmarsh and ribbonwood. I was there in March 2016 and saw over five hundreds birds on the beach mostly black-billed gull and white fronted terns with a few little shags and black shags and mallards standing away on their own. Also the mollyhawk aka southern black-backed gull. There have been 71 species of birds recorded and 32 of them native. Canada geese usually seen in good numbers on the lagoon.  Ashbury Park was once a lagoon. 


Otago Witness 14 December 1878, Page 17
The Timaru Boating Club opened the season on the Waskdyke lagoon on Saturday afternoon. Mrs C. B. Grierson christened the boats Waipa and Waiho, built by Salter, Oxford, to-day. The weather was splendid, and the water calm.

Otago Witness 5 April 1894, Page 33
The Timaru Herald says that a large party of Maoris with their chief, J. Kahu, are very busy at present eeling on the Washdyke lagoon. They have been in camp for a week or two, and during that time have caught about 1000 eels. Some very fines ones have come to the net, weighing about 61b, and the women have a busy time cleaning and drying them. The "fishing" season lasts for about two months, and the gross take is expected to be about 3000. The eel is esteemed a great delicacy by the Maori, and is also a source of exchange, mutton birds being sent up by the southern pahs for them.  

Maori fishing camp at the Washdyke Lagoon, photo by William Ferrier. There is a gig to the right, two men with gaffs, one with a dead eel, five women near fire and a couple of tents.

Timaru Herald, 10 March 1911, Page 7
The Canterbury Land Board states that the Washdyke Lagoon had been a sanctuary for native game since 1906. It was set apart in 1906-7 as a sanctuary for wild fowl under reserve No. 2593. The references to the Gazette notices are: temporary reservation, Gazette No. 92, pp. 2856/7—l/11/06. Permanent reservation,- Gazette No. 12, p. 449 7/2/07. The area is quoted as 650 acres.

Timaru Herald, 10 March 1916, Page 3
ACCLIMATISATION SOCIETY. The Department of Internal Affairs wrote informing the Council that it was proposed to declare the Washdyke Lagoon with boundaries as defined by the Council a sanctuary under the Animals Protection Act. The chairman said there had always been a difficulty about prosecuting anyone for shooting on the lagoon because the boundaries had never been defined. To get over this difficulty he had authorised Mr Bridges to make a survey. The total cost of this work was £12 8s and if the Council would not recognise the account he would pay it himself. It was decided to pay the account, and the secretary was instructed to notify the owners of certain huts on the Waskdyke reserve that they must be removed.

NZ Birds online.

The black-billed gull is the most threatened gull species in the world and endemic (is found only in) to New Zealand. This one was at the coastal track, near Smithfield and the Washdyke Lagoon (Waitarakao) March 2016. They are rapidly declining - by 60% in the last 25 years - and is classified as nationally critical. Threats include introduced predators such as cats, stoats and ferrets and modification of their breeding habitat by hydro-electric development and farm intensification and use of herbicides and pesticides. These birds are one of only three gull species found in New Zealand. It is a good place to watch the sunrise. During autumn-winter, all ages may have a grey patch above, below and in front of eye. Immature (2nd year) birds have a grey eye, black eye-ring, bi-coloured bill (pinkish red with dark grey-black tip and line through middle) and pinkish-red legs (some almost orange). The tail is white, sometimes with a grey-brown subterminal band. The wing is pale silver-grey with brownish terminal margins; large brown-black tips to the tertials (a set of flight feathers on the wing).  "The birds of Washdyke Lagoon revisited" Benn 2010.

March 2016 Washdyke. 

Little shags, a native, mainly inhabit coastal habitats about much of New Zealand and is often seen individually roosting on rocky headlands and tree branches. Most adults are black with white cheeks and throat. The bill is yellow. They do shallow dives.


Kirk. R., M. Lauder G., A. 2000, Significant coastal lagoon systems in the South Island, New Zealand: coastal processes and lagoon mouth closure, N.Z. Dept. of Conservation, Wellington.
Todd, D., J. 1989.Washdyke-Seadown coastal erosion. South Canterbury Catchment and Regional Water Board publication, 62A.

24 March 2016. A southerly came in. Looking towards Geraldine. 

Past (1940s), recent past (March 2016) and new bridge (Dec. 2016).

August 2011. Speed limit was 20kph. Then dropped down to 10kph.

An overbridge.

A temporary Bailey bridge on top of the old wooden bridge (1940s) that goes over the railway line to Smithfield Freezing Works on Bridge St. In October 2016 a new overbridge was opened. While the bridge was being built vehicle access to the freezing works and foreshore was via Westcott and Pacific streets. 

Photo taken March 2016.

Note the southerly front coming in, the wind blown trees, gorse lining the bank and a cabbage tree to the right. Belfield house to the right in the background. March 2016.

Dec. 2016. Bridge St, Bridge one month old. Photo by M.T.

John S. wrote April 2016.
Have just seen your page on Washyke Lagoon and I am amazed at the changes. Dad was Asst. Manager at the flax factory and I lived there whilst going to TBHS 1942-45, and as the factory was adjacent to the lagoon often visited it. There used to be a stopbank adjacent to the drainage canal from Seaview but can't really see it from the photo you have posted maybe it has gone also? I am surprised how small a body of water it is now compared to my memory. Used to walk away along it towards Seadown and collect driftwood for firewood, lashed onto rafts and tow back along the canal. The flax factory buildings are still there now a frozen food factory, McCains, who pack our favourite baby peas. There also used to be a colony of German Owls that lived in some willows just across the railway line. I never got involved but just a short distance along the beach was a favourite spot for shark fishing, quite profitable, as the livers were sold to Ferons?, the fish merchants, and used to extract the oil. I understood that the spot was where the north flowing current reached the beach after passing the harbour.
    I never saw anyone fishing there, I had a few goes at the Smithfield end but not a lot going on with an odd Red Cod was all I can recall. When the flax factory was operating I suspect that the water used for 'Retting' the process of soaking the flax fibre in water for about 6 -7 days would have polluted the Lagoon to some extent and fish would have found it hard to survive due to lack of oxygen. I recall that the ditch which ran all the way along the stopbank on the land side was always a brown colour as were the ponds amongst the stack yard which were there for firefighting if needed. There was a small community with the flax factory, a couple of rendering down works, the railway station and Humes who made large steel pipes the rest was open land. The house we lived in was two chains from the main trunk line one chain of road and one chain of rail reserve which was generally planted in potatoes or blue peas, I presume on leased from NZR. On one occasion after about a week of steady rain there was water from Washdyke to the Opihi virtually. We were ok the railway embankment acted as a stopbank but I recall going up to the store and watched the creek flowing over the bridge.

This is the ditch that I used to tow the driftwood along after collecting it and also the site where they used to fish for shark was probably at the end of Aorangi Rd. The stopbank and ditch on the landward side were designed to drain the water from the land to the north of the Flax Factory and it would have gone as far as Aorangi Rd. Maybe a bit further. Could have been built in conjunction with the building of the Factory. The area much like most of Canterbury is alluvial shingle and free draining, the water level was only about 500mm below the land level as I recall. I presume the canal discharged into the lagoon via the Washdyke Creek near where it flowed under the rail bridge. Interesting that it is still there in May 2016. John S.

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project