Opotiki wharf (quay)

Many on their travels around the East Cape pass through Opotiki unawares that it is a town with a wharf (quay) and waterfront that are rich in history.

For those of us who enjoy connecting with towns through their waterfronts, the historic and largely disused wharves (quays) dotted around the East Cape of New Zealand are required viewing. They speak to us of an age when sailing scows and steam ships were filled to the gunnels with merchandise and passengers and were the lifeline of the towns they visited.

Opotiki Wharf is tucked away almost out of sight. A long Youth Art mural painted on the wharf’s concrete wall tells the history of the waterfront, along with a storyboard erected there by the Historic Places Trust.

But change is in the wind. Look out to the sea and just over the horizon is the world’s largest open ocean aquaculture venture: growing mussels and catching spat (baby mussels) for on-growing at other marine farms around New Zealand. Could this be the new model for feeding the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for seafood? The local shop windows display artists’ impressions of the planned new harbour entrance to accommodate the expected growth.

The wharf is also home port for The Opotiki Community Reef’, the only reef-building initiative of its type in New Zealand. REAF (Recreating Enhanced Areas for Fish) combines both science and Maori environmental principles (kaitiakitanga) to grow local fish numbers and diversity. The nascent sea ranching partnership aims to help communities with the ability to supply their own fresh organic seafood.

And if the famed sunshine of the East Cape has you needing to cool off, head to the free water park at the opposite end to the Coast Guard building. This is where locals and tourists join in the age old tradition of wharf jumping and rope swinging. From the top of the river stopbank you can view the original Harbour Master’s home known as ‘The Wharf Hub’ with its eclectic display of reef modules, mussel buoys and other maritime exhibits.

The Opotiki wharf is poised to once again become a lifeline for the town.

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