The small urban waterway of Omaru Stream starts its journey in a forgotten piece of reserve land behind houses, in the South Auckland suburb of Glen Innes.
It follows the train tracks then crosses beneath the highway. It travels on, unnoticed, behind the local shops.
As it comes closer to the Tāmaki Estuary it skirts the back wall of the Glen Innes swimming complex, widening briefly into a pool of its own. It travels through Te Whanake/Point England reserve and out into the estuary.
These waters then flow out into the Hauraki Gulf.
Conservation Volunteers New Zealand (CVNZ) is leading the Love Omaru Stream project. Clair Hobi is the Auckland Regional Manager.
“We’ve had loads of locals getting involved,” she says. “It’s been amazing. The most common comment has been ‘I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t even know this was here’. I feel like we’re making this amazing connection for people.”
Growing a sense of kaitiakitanga for the stream is a deliberate goal of the project. The community and its natural environment have experienced many of the same adverse outcomes as other urban areas of New Zealand.
In the 1820s when Samuel Marsden visited the area he described a large Ngāti Pāoa settlement a mile long and half a mile wide. At this time, Omaru stream would have been a thriving waterway. It was a habitat for native fish and birds. It was an important source of mahinga kai for the iwi, and a great place to take a dip.
Over the following decades, a process of land alienation left Ngāti Pāoa virtually landless. Alongside this loss of mana whenua the iwi experienced a serious decline in wellbeing. This led to lower life expectancy, higher unemployment and lower income levels than the general population.
The stream has mirrored this decline. Historical land clearance was followed by an urban development model that treated streams like Omaru as drains. Omaru Stream now has E.coli, phosphorus, ammoniacal nitrogen and turbity (cloudiness) at levels that place it amongst the worst 25% of New Zealand’s waterways.
Georgina Hart is Project Lead Water at SBN and heads the Million Metres project.
“We have to start taking care of our local waterways.” she says. “Streams are beautiful taonga, full of life. And streams flow to the sea. Caring for our little waterways is a great way to care for our large ones, in Auckland that’s the Gulf.”
Love Omaru Stream is part of SBN’s GulfX initiative to restore the mauri of Tikapa Moana/Hauraki Gulf.
At Omaru Stream, CVNZ has been working with the local community to replant sections of the stream in Te Whanake/ Pt England. Since 2017, 6,000 plants have already gone in the ground. There are plans for another 5,000 this winter.
The plants and trees will filter sediment and nutrients, reducing pollution. Over time they will create shade for the stream. This will lower water temperatures and increase oxygen levels for its inhabitants, including long fin eel. Native vegetation will provide food and habitat for native birds, lizards and insects. It will recreate a beautiful place for local people to enjoy.
In addition, a work skills programme is helping young people find employment in the conservation sector.
Clair says: “The work skills guys are all from the local area. It’s been a huge success. We’re currently piloting eight of these work skills programmes around the country. We’ll definitely be looking to expand it in the future.”
Maintenance work and site preparation is now underway, alongside fundraising through Million Metres. The goal is to crowdfund $36,700 over the next few months. This will fund 2,000 trees, the planting itself and ongoing maintenance of the wider planting site.
A third of funds has already been raised with help from engineering firm Tonkin and Taylor and Million Metre’s Christmas fundraiser.
If you would like to support this project please visit the ‘Love Omaru Stream page on the Million Metres’ website. Any donation big or small is appreciated.