Kaipara River Restoration

Saja Yacoob



How can key factors help to create strong links between a river and town? Water pollution has a huge impact on Aucklanders’, as we are the guardians of a unique environment. Human activity and Aucklands rapidly growing population creates increased pressure on our land and water environments. Therefore, we as landscape architects must play a part in reducing the negative impacts of pollution within these environments.  

There is a disconnection between landscape, water, people and place. The lack of connection has huge impacts on these systems; currently there is lack of biodiversity, which is one of the biggest issues that the harbour faces. Subsequently making the river isolated, enclosed, ignored and polluted.

As of 2011, the environmental state of the harbour has been labelled ‘nearing crisis’ and in ‘significant decline’, due to shrinking fish and shellfish stocks, increased sedimentation, declining water quality and competition for resource use and development, with “99% of the rivers in the catchment [being] polluted.” The common emerging theme within our water environments is negative, with ninety nine percent of the catchments around the Kaipara Harbour being blocked, low in vegetation, as the kauri forest is long gone, currently replaced with dairy farms that are affecting the water quality around these zones.

As landscape architects our goal is to create connections and interactions between and within space, it is not just about restoring an area or regenerating recreational use, or making it ‘pretty’. It is about the interaction between the people and their environment, those that are predicted and those that emerge. 

The principle design of the site was to enhance the area where humans, land and water can blend, to benefit and support each other as one environment. Creating a connection where all the three elements work in harmony within the Helensville site. 

The sites water environment is so isolated and disconnected from the city, and like people say “no one will fix the problem, unless they see the issue”; the intention of the study was to create awareness within the community. Expressing the urgency for people to relate to and understand the river. As well as witness what is happening and what harm is being caused; this may help them to learn and recognise what they can do to help their environment and community. 

The design idea was to generate an environment where people help water, water helps land and land helps people, creating a relationship beneficial to all. The design implemented six over-arching themes, aesthetic, cultural, educational, restoration, physical and mental wellbeing and social cohesion. The use of these methods within the site created a successful, flexible design; a design that answered and solved the problem, of how we can enhance and improve water quality in our streams, rivers, and harbours through structural connection, and landscape, through public awareness? The over-arching design themes and the connection created between the people and the water, formed the water sensitive design.