FMU History and Land Use
The climate of the Marlborough Sounds is characterised by prevailing west to northwest winds with frequent gales. Rainfall is reliable with a southwest-northeast gradient, where there is a higher mean average annual rainfall of 2,000mm in the southwest that declines to 900mm in the far outer reaches of the north-eastern sounds. Summers are generally warm, and winters are mild.
Geology and soils
The geology of the Marlborough Sounds FMU is complex. The basement rocks in the west are dominated by argillite and igneous conglomerates, with some areas of ultramafic “Mineral Belt” rocks and volcanics. The centre is primarily greywacke and argillite, and the east is dominated by schists. These are arranged in belts or strips along a northeast-southwest axis.
The area is home to steep land soils that have formed from the parent rocks and include fragmented debris flows of soils downslope. Many soils are highly erodible with clay content of over 60%. Generally, the soils are moderately fertile, but in the higher rainfall areas they have been leached and are infertile. In the ultramafic (mineral belt) areas, concentrations of metallic minerals create soils that can inhibit plant growth.
Bodies of water
The regional subsidence in the Marlborough Sounds has resulted in the drowning of the original river systems, which used to flow southwards connecting with the Pelorus River at Havelock and then flowing through the Kaituna Valley to join the Wairau River. The resulting landscape is dominated by steep to very steep hill and mountain slopes, sea cliffs, rocky shorelines, and islands.
There are many unnamed streams and creeks in the FMU, and the largest catchments are in the south. The exception is Kenepuru Stream, which is located more centrally, rising on the southern side of Mount Stokes. The Kenepuru catchment is not typical of the Marlborough Sounds as the river meanders over a wide alluvial floodplain for much of its length. The river is steeply incised in some places, and during the summer months the lower sections can run dry. Over half the catchment is in native bush and scrub with pastoral farming on the lower slopes and valley.
The most easterly of the larger river catchments is Linkwater, which is a low-lying alluvial plain of around 5 kilometres in length. It separates the head of Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui and the Mahakipawa Arm of the Pelorus/Te Hoiere Sound. The largest river in this area is Cullen Creek, which flows from the northern side of the Richmond Ranges and west into Pelorus/Te Hoiere Sound. Its catchment is an equal mix of native and exotic forestry in the upper reaches with dairying in the lower reaches. The western side of the Linkwater plain has two streams, Duncan and Ada streams, which also flow north from the Richmond Ranges and enter into the head of Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui. Like Cullen Creek, these streams’ upper reaches are dominated by native and exotic forestry with dairying in the lower areas.
The Waitohi River and the Waikawa Stream flow through the urban centres of Picton/Waitohi and Waikawa, respectively. The Waitohi River rises on the northern slopes of Mount Robertson and has a steep upper catchment dominated by native forest and regenerating bush. It flows north through urban Picton in its lower reaches before reaching Picton Harbour. The Barnes Dam is in the upper catchment and serves as part of the water supply for the town. Similarly, the Waikawa River rises at Piripiri between Mount Robertson and Mount McCormick and flows north through native forest and regenerating bush in the upper catchment and the urban area of Waikawa in the lower reaches before reaching Waikawa Bay. Both the Waitohi River and Waikawa Stream have a special place in the rohe of Te Ātiawa. A 2018 report provides further information on the history and cultural significance of these streams and an assessment of water quality in the two catchments.
The most westerly of the larger river catchments is the Graham River, which rises to the southeast of Mount McCormick and flows northwards into Whatamango Bay on the south side of Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui. Its catchment is dominated by native forest and scrub with pastoral farming in the lower reaches. Rainfall is moderate to high in the catchment, which has resulted in flash flooding.
Flora and fauna habitats
The Marlborough Sounds are an important habitat for both terrestrial and aquatic species. The well-known species include the king shag, blue penguin and Hector’s dolphin, but there are many other threatened species such as the giant land snails, giant wētā, skinks and gekos, and Hamilton’s and the Maud Island frogs.
Prior to human arrival, lizards would have been abundant throughout the region. They now have to run the gauntlet of introduced predators and loss of suitable habitat. A rare yellow form of manuka gecko (Naultinus manukanus), also known as the Marlborough green gecko is present on Arapawa Island. This species is endemic to North Marlborough and is on the list of nationally threatened fauna.
Fish habitats are present throughout the FMU for a variety of species, including banded, short jaw and giant kokopu; several types of bully, including common, bluegill, upland, giant and redfin; habitats for both shortfin and longfin eel; as well as inanga, koaro and dwarf galaxis. In the Kenepuru area, common smelt are present and torrent fish have been found in several Sounds streams.
Common wetland birds are ducks, paradise shelduck and pukeko, but also found in the area are banded rail, marsh crake and Australasian bittern. Islands and peninsulas in the area provide for predator-free native wildlife sanctuaries and reserves. These include the ‘mainland island’ sanctuary of Kaipupu situated at Kaipupu Point between Port Marlborough and Shakespeare Bay, as well as Maud and Motuara Islands.
Weed pests are an issue with wilding pines being a visually prominent one for which there is active work to poison these trees and prevent further spread.
Land use and cover
Historical land cover in the wider FMU area is well described in a 2004 council report:
“The pre-human vegetation cover would have been almost entirely forest, except for eroding scarps, beaches, water bodies and at the summit of Mt Stokes. Hard beech is dominant in most remaining forest areas up to about 500m, with black beech on spurs, kamahi common and some rimu. In the gullies and fertile lower slopes is lush broadleaved forest containing kohekohe, pukatea, tawa and nikau, sometimes with large rimu, matai and kahikatea. There is usually a profusion of ferns, climbers and epiphytes in these forests. Between 500 and 700m in altitude the forest is generally dominated by red beech, with kamahi and silver beech. Southern rata and Hall’s totara often occur on ridge crests. Above 700m, the forest is dominated by silver beech, with mountain beech on some western peaks. On the summit of Mt Stokes, above 1100m, is alpine vegetation of snowgrass, alpine daisies and cushion plants, with a fringe of scrub.”
The Marlborough Sounds have a long and complex history, some of which predates European settlement. The outer Marlborough Sounds were likely the first area settled by māori with Waitohi/Picton occupied later, though it is difficult to ascertain exact time stamps.
In 1770 Captain Cook famously visited the area, staying at Ship’s Cove in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound multiple times over seven years, encountering about 400 Māori living in this area. Māori were likely inhabiting various smaller settlements throughout the Sounds at this time. Later in 1820, a Russian expedition found itself in the Marlborough Sounds and met a much smaller number of māori occupying the land at the time.
Soon afterwards in the 1850s European settlers arrived. Early industries included whaling, logging, mining, and farming. The first whaling station was set up in the Sounds in 1820, but it wasn’t until 1911 that the whaling industry really began. It peaked in the 1960s but only continued for another four years due to falling prices and foreign competition. Gold exploration in 1873 led to the discovery of antimony in Endeavour Inlet. Mining began in 1874 and became one of the largest industries in the area until its closure in 1908.
The late 1800s also saw significant land clearance for pastoral farming through logging and fire. By the 1910s, more than two-thirds of the Sounds had been cleared. In the 1930s, plantation forests began to be established on the steep land that was not suitable for farming. Many farms were also surrendered to the Crown at this time and are now in reserves.
The late 1800s consisted of significant land use change in Picton, while the balance of the Marlborough Sounds generally remained the same. Picton developed into a busy port town with jetty, shops, and housing by 1895. Further development in the 20th century involved significant land filling, culverting, and reclamation to create the port and Waikawa marina. Additionally, the Waitohi and Waikawa river channels were physically amended, changing the habitats and physical characteristics of the waterways. Both events created a geographical change in the area which altered the land and water use of the area.
Portions of the original native bush were burned and converted to pasture throughout the FMU. Over time, a large amount of this pasture was converted into plantation forestry. Wilding pines are now a serious issue and there are management plans in place to prevent spread of this pest species. Today, large areas of regenerating native bush are prevalent on the hill country in the outer sounds with landowners working actively to encourage planting and protection of the trees.
Linkwater retains exotic pasture on the lower to mid slopes, rising to bush and scrub on the higher land. This is one of the few areas of the FMU where pastoral farming is the main land use. Some larger dry stock farms exist in the outer sounds but these are few and geographically isolated.
There are a range of urban settlements in this FMU ranging from the seaside port town of Waitohi/Picton, through to small, isolated settlements in the outer sounds such as Waitaria Bay.
A Marlborough Sounds FMU map with land use overlay is shown below, further detailing the large tracts of natural forest across the area.
Picton/Waitohi and Waikawa are the main urban centres in this FMU, situated towards the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui. Picton/Waitohi is built around a sheltered harbour and is the South Island base of the Cook Strait ferries that link the North and South Islands. Today, the town provides a tourism hub and a gateway to the Marlborough Sounds, hosting both local and international visitors including cruise ships. To the northeast of Picton is Waikawa and Waikawa Bay, which also open onto Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui. Waikawa also provides access to the Sounds with one of largest marinas in New Zealand.
Picton's main water supply is bore water drawn from an aquifer at Speeds Road in the Wairau FMU. In summer, this supply is supplemented by treated water from the Essons Valley. The Essons Valley water supply comes from a stream-fed source, a tributary of the Waitohi Stream, and is held by Barnes Dam. However, it can have quality problems during the summer if the stored water stratifies and algal growths are allowed to bloom.
Outside of these centres, the population is dispersed through the Sounds with residential properties primarily located at the heads of bays and along the roads. The more populous settlements are in the inner Sounds along Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound/Totaranui—including Ngakuta Bay and Anakiwa—and across the Sound in Lochmara Bay, Double Cove and Bay of Many Coves. Similarly, the Mahakipawa Arm of the Pelorus/Te Hoiere Sound has many properties along Queen Charlotte Drive. Many of these communities have water supply systems that are operated by residents, using water from streams, wells, and roof run-off.
Māori history in the area
The council has an ongoing work stream with local iwi to identify their visions, values, and aspirations for freshwater in the FMU. These will be collated with views from the wider community.