Travel Insights

Pekapeka Wetlands

Pekapeka Wetlands

Today we visited the PekaPeka wetlands, and were most impressed with the amazing work the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council with community support have done in restoring the Pekapeka wetlands. It certainly is worth a visit!

The name Pekapeka is a Maori word for the native bats which lived in caves near here, using the wetland as a source of food.

One of the few remaining inland wetlands in Hawke’s Bay the Pekapeka wetlands are one of the most significant.


Getting there and carparking

The Pekapeka wetland is 25km (30 minutes drive) from Napier along State Highway 2 toward Waipawa. A carpark just off SH2 provides plenty of parking spaces.

Sorry – no dogs allowed!

Interpretative signs

Visitors can meander along the easy tracks and boardwalks through the interpretative area learning about the history, ecology, value for the people of Hawke’s Bay and the importance the Pekapeka wetlands have for our ecological health through well placed informative signs.

Picnic tables are available, so take a picnic and enjoy a relaxed morning or afternoon in the countryside.



The Pekapeka wetlands, which runs alongside SH2, covers 98 hectares (mostly now owned by Hawke's Bay Regional Council, but some portions are on private land) and is a remnant of a much larger wetland system covering the majority of the Poukawa basin and the Hertaunga plains.

Lying in the middle of Poukawa basin, the Pekapeka wetland sits between the Ruakawa Range (western side) and the Kaokaoroa Range (eastern side), with most of the water coming from Lake Poukawa. The western slopes are capped by Te Aute limestone over calcareous sandstone and siltstone (about 2 million years old), with the eastern side cover with Te Mata limestone.

The wetland is part of an ancient peat swamp, over nine metres deep in places, believed to be one of the oldest in New Zealand. It was formed about 9600BC and originally stretched as far south as Te Aute Trust Road. 

The Wairarapa fault line runs on the far side of the wetland. The last big movement of this fault line was on 3rd February 1931 shifting the ground half a metre vertically and two metres to the right.

Now much smaller and much changed, Pekapeka wetlands sits at the head of a large basin, filtering water from a catchment of 10,000 hectares.

Pekapeka wetlands are a great example of the important role wetlands play in protecting our natural environment by:

  • Improving the quality of the water as it flows through the wetland. Traces of fertiliser and stock effluent from farms are filtered by wetland plants before entering our valuable streams and rivers.

  • Filtering nutrients and sediment, providing a rich supply of food for birds, fish, animals and people. They keep water on the land by acting as sponges, and slowly release the moisture back into the surrounding environment as the soil dries out. Wetlands are among the most productive places on earth.

  • Providing an important home to flora and fauna. They are great places for recreation, hunting and fishing and an ideal setting to learn about nature.

  • Contributing to flood control by helping to absorb high rainfall before it enters our river and streams.

  • Helping manage climate change, and healthy peat bogs contain between 2 to 5 tonnes of carbon per hectare, which remains permanently locked up in the soil.

Over the last 100 years it is estimated that New Zealand has lost 90% of is wetlands, with many native wetland plants and creatures threatened with extinction.



Many years of drainage works had left Pekapeka overrun with fast growing plants like crack and pussy willow. Low water levels were also a problem for migratory fish species such as inanga (whitebait), long-finned and short-finned eels.

By the mid-1980’s a new view of wetlands took hold as the role wetlands played in our environment became clearer, and in 1984 willow control trials were started. 

In the 1990’s a restoration project was commenced (led by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and with community support) with the aim to improve the wetland’s capacity to regulate flood waters and increase the natural biodiversity that resides in and around the wetland. 

The natural balance of the wetlands is being restored to also protect its culture and history, and to help people understand the important part that wetlands play in our environment.

Right from the start the vision was to develop a portion of the wetland for public enjoyment and education.

The first phase of the project involved removing the willow infestation which had taken over 75% of the wetland. Some dead willows trunks are still visible evidence of the huge clearance of willows that was needed to reopen the wetlands.

Following the construction of a weir to manage the water levels in 2005, wetland health started to improve with birds, wetland grasses and eels returning.

In 2009 funding was approved to enable the wetlands to be developed as a public reserve, with it being opened to the public in 2010.

Wetland life

Raupo, sedges, rushes, many species of flax and the rare swamp nettle, alongside these over 82 species of plants, both native and introduced, can be found within the wetland. Aquatic water plants include submerged curled pond weed and free floating water ferns. Caddisflies, midges and other insects are an important food source for fish, eels, frogs, and 36 different species of birds including the rare Australasian Bittern and Marsh Drake, the NZ Dabchick, Spotless Crake, Black Shag and NZ Shoveler, and a wide range of waterfowl can be viewed.



These peaceful landscapes hold cultural and spiritual significance for Maori. Pekapeka was an important hunting and fishing ground for local Maori, where tribes dating from 1530 to 1670AD used a canoe path from Pakipaki to Lake Poukawa.  

Three Pa sites used the wetland as part of their defences: Waireporepo Pa – just upstream – was probably part of Island Pa, over the railway line. Tikiwhata Pa was a major eel fishing site at the southern end by Poukawa Stream.

A story goes …. Te Pakaru lived at Waireporepo Pa invited Whareupoko of the Takoremu Pa from the Havelock hills to join forces with him, saying “ In time of war your taiaha and my taiaha would defeat the enemy. In time of peace your food and my food would defeat the greatest eaters.” Whareupoko refused the invitation, so te Pakaru attacked and defeated him. 

Imagine what it was like to live on one of the Pa sites here!

The wetland was made a Waahi Tapu (sacred) site in 1997.

Look closely as you move around Pekapeka and you will see telltale signs of its recent history. European settlement led to major changes for the land, water, plants and bird life.

In 1875, the Wellington-Napier railway line was built through the wetland. This cut through “Island Pa” and cut off part of the stream which is now a small lake.

State Highway 2 was first a walking track and then a horse track, winding along the western boundary. As technology changed, the track turned into a road. In 1955 the road was straightened, cutting through the western side of the wetland.

For a long time, it was normal practice to dump rubbish in or near swamps and wetland areas. This included unwanted soil, building rubble, and other waste, often as infill. On this site there is rubbish dating from the 1870’s until as recently as the 1990’s. Material from the demolished Mayfair and Pacific Hotels is visible here, as a reminder of what we’ve learned about looking after our environment.

Between 1942 and 1970 channels were built to drain the wetland.

In 1970 Pekapeka was made a reserve for soil and water conservation, with the work to re-establish the wetlands commencing in the 1990’s.


Many groups and individuals have worked together on the Pekapeka wetland project, bringing their commitment, resources and energy over many years to make Pekapeka what is today. From managing water levels to controlling plant and animal pests, fencing and planting – this site is a legacy for the people of Hawke’s Bay to learn from and enjoy.