Walkways and Whitebait: Good things in Greymouth

It’s been seven years since a public meeting held by Grey District Council introduced two ideas: to enhance the local estuary, and to develop the adjacent lagoon into a welcoming park and recreation area.

The project that was seeded that night responded to the agreed task at hand: to come up with ideas to encourage more visitors to stick around in Greymouth, and as well as the buy-in from community members at the meeting, the project won backing from both the council and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Part one – enhancing the local estuary – meant creating and planting more channels in the estuary to create a thriving whitebait habitat. Arguably the animate hero of the West Coast, this idea was heartily welcomed by locals and by DOC workers who have a vested interest in the preservation and regeneration of the whitebait population.

Work began on this part of the project in 2013, and by 2018 six kilometres of new channels had been dug in the estuary, and between ten and twelve thousand plants had been put in the ground.

Rob Harrison, local volunteer and career land manager says, “now it’s a matter of keeping back the weeds to allow the native plants to colonise the estuary and watch the whitebait population grow.”


(click here to see IC resources on Grow Collaborative Local Leadership)

Rob joined forces with fellow volunteers to establish CASRA (Cobden Aramohana Sanctuary and Recreational Area) society after the council coordinator’s funding was stopped.

“When the funding dried up, we decided to make a little incorporated society CASRA, to facilitate the project and so that we could have the ability to apply for funding. It’s worked well because DOC and the council was impressed with our efforts.”

“We became the liaison agency to connect the Grey District Council and DOC. There was a plan which had been drawn up and it was essentially our job to see it through.”

CASRA is a mix of passionate locals who have a wide range of skills from landscaping to whitebaiting, and just generally want to lend a hand on the project.


(click here to see IC resources on Build From Strengths)

“We were lucky at that first meeting. We had people in the room whose skills really suited this project. Connections to DOC, experience in land management, landscaping and eco-systems… it became a situation of building on the skills we had in our group.”

Part two – redeveloping the beautiful Cobden Lagoon, a stone’s throw from the estuary – was commenced in 2014.

“The council had begun planting the lagoon around ten years ago after a rubbish dump, on the ocean side of the lagoon, was closed in 2008. We then became involved focusing on planting and developing a path around the lagoon.”


(click here to see IC resources on Shared Local Vision)

Although CASRA has just ten regularly active volunteers, there was great interest from locals to lend a hand, and by working closely with the council and DOC, extra labour was brought in from Conservation Volunteers NZ.

The numbers go some way to demonstrate the scale of this project:

  • $21,000 spent on plants and contract planters
  • 600 hours of volunteer work
  • 4,000 trees, hebes and flaxes planted with plans to plant more in the coming years

“The maintenance side of things kicks in now. Weed clearing, path making and predator trapping to name a few. The introduction of plants has naturally evolved this lagoon into a bird sanctuary and overall it’s a beautiful looking place.”

Harrison and his wife live very near the project site so it became a personal investment to see their own place be developed for future generations.

“We won’t be around to see the trees grow too tall of course, but it’s really turned into a lovely place to go for walks and see the wildlife.”


(click here to see IC resources on Learn by Doing)

“To say this project was carried out without hiccups wouldn’t be accurate! What’s a project if it doesn’t face delays and speed bumps, after all. But I think you have to make allowances for that and be prepared to work with what you’ve got, Especially within a small community as we have. I have definitely felt a bit frustrated sometimes…. If you want to make progress you’ve got to focus on the positives.”

On a personal level, Harrison’s involvement in CASRA and this particular project has meant he’s felt a sense of being able to give back to his community by sharing his skills and knowledge, as well as offering some of his free time now that he’s retired.

To see the significant rise in the number of people who stop to enjoy the surroundings has been reassuring for everyone involved.

“The combination of walks, water, native plants, birds and whitebait is drawing in the visitors, and that was our original goal. It might have taken a while to get here, but it goes to show that if you can retain a sense of humour and some patience, you’ll get there. It’s worth it in the end.”

Cobden Lagoon is located off the main state highway through Greymouth and is well worth a stop. More information about this project and its whereabouts can be found here.

For resources collated by Inspiring Communities that relate to the processes and principles identified in this story, we encourage you to visit our website.

Mataura: a community transformed

Jo Brand, former Community Development Worker, says Mataura was “limping along and disconnected”. This was partly due to the shut-down of various industries over the years, resulting in people moving away to find work and to access a better range of facilities. A lot of property was owned by absentee owners and wasn’t looked after well. Jo adds says that “all the numbers were terrible”, according to a 2008 study done by Public Health South (Southern District Health Board). Mataura also had the lowest decile school in Southland, only one out of five kids were school ready at age 5 and the crime statistics were less than ideal.

Shared local visions drive action and change

Tamariki at Mataura Primary

Government agencies were concerned about Mataura and were going to meet to decide what to do, but then they realised that the locals were already creating a way forward. The town had already formed a taskforce and started working with Inspiring Communities.

Alan Taylor, Chair of the Community Board, stresses that “there is always a need for a common vision”. So, the process started with a community consultation workshop. Everyone got together to talk about what they wanted in Mataura. “We started with celebrating and identifying who Mataura is first. That we’re not buying into what everyone else was telling us we were or weren’t” says Jo.

The residents created lists of what they wanted to see in the town and 70% of the projects on those lists have now been completed, even ones Jo never thought would succeed. Having more than one cafe in a town of 1,500 people didn’t seem realistic, but they now have two independent cafes as well as a Four Square and a fish and chip shop.

Using existing strengths and assets

Jo believes “the skillset was always there from the people. It just needed encouragement”. Many of the town’s projects have been ones of restoration. The Mataura Museum was a struggling entity until a group of volunteers worked with Gore District Council to restore the building. They made it interactive and modern, relevant and local. On opening, in 2015, it won Best Museum Project Award at the NZ Museum Awards and one of the volunteers travelled to a Heritage conference in Croatia to speak about the project.

Mataura Museum volunteers
Mataura Museum volunteers

The old town hall was restored and there is also a newer community centre, which is a real focal point for the community.

Eleanor Ranstead, the current Community Development Coordinator, has witnessed the extraordinary transformation of the town in her 20 or so years in the area: “It has a lot of hope”. She says the focus is now on building the capacity of community groups and people. The list of programmes, activities and resources the town now offers is extensive: a Mens’ Shed, Strengthening Families, community lunches, Toddler Time, the Bunker Youth Centre, Mind Matters, an Al-Anon group and a suicide prevention group, activities at four different churches and so much more.

“What’s really emerged is not so much leaders. It’s that people have embraced other people’s strengths. People recognise and understand that you don’t have to be the expert at everything. But everybody has an expertise in something. That’s what we do differently now” says Jo.

Many people, groups and sectors working together

Mataura was awarded a Community Development Scheme grant by the Department of Internal Affairs. The community has also worked with Inspiring Communities on a regular basis and has brought Jim Diers to town to do workshops on several occasions. Gore District Council has been another important partner in the town’s development.

Working collaboratively is something that the town’s people have got better at over time. “Now we say ‘Here’s what we want to do. Who do we need to help us get that?’” says Jo. “To encourage involvement from the community is huge. And working with local government is important” adds Alan.

Working adaptively, learning informs planning and action

There has been a lot of learning along the way. “It was a journey of understanding what people needed” Jo says. “The community gardens didn’t work at first. They realised they had to charge money because no-one would come if it was free”.

Barbara Cunningham is responsible for the community gardens. The project expanded further when she realised that the Meals on Wheels programme was using frozen meals from Gore. She took over the contract and started delivering fresh food, using produce from the garden. The service now runs five days a week.

Barbara Cunningham wins 2016 ANZAC of the year
Barbara Cunningham wins 2016 ANZAC of the year

Other projects include demolishing derelict buildings and putting in parks and recreation areas, building a sensory garden and an outdoor gym circuit and creating a new childcare centre which fits the needs of the local parents, many of whom do shift work. The primary school roll is up by about 30 and they’ve just established a bilingual class.

Mataura Marae sat incomplete for about 30 years, after a number of setbacks prevented renovations taking place. Work finally restarted in 2017. The wharenui is now finished and the plan is to have gardens and possibly a café, with wheelchair accessibility and a family friendly atmosphere.

These projects are not only important to Mataura. Gore District Council wants to retain Mataura as a destination point, so Southlanders (and others) stop and visit.

The population is on the rise and house prices are increasing, but are still affordable, which makes it a very attractive location. And business is booming! Eleanor estimates that there are now 80 – 100 businesses operating in the town. The townspeople think local before buying further afield and some businesses that might have closed down have been bought and run by other locals.

Jo captures Mataura’s community spirit well when she says “I remember my Great Grandmother telling us ‘just do what you can to help others: it doesn’t matter if it seems small to you’. I think that sort of sums up why Mataura is what it is”.

Mataura Rugby Club Day
Mataura Rugby Club Day

Mataura Community Garden – growing vegetables and a proud reputation

The seeds of this project were literally planted in the Spring of 2009 and by 2012 there was an amazing, flourishing community garden that not only met its goal each week during seasonal production, but has developed into much more.

Read the full story here: getting a reputation- mataura community garden