Westhaven Estuary (Whanganui Inlet)
Image: Shellie Evans ©


Westhaven is the first estuary in New Zealand to be protected by a combination of marine and wildlife reserve. The landscape is a rare combination of lush native coastal forest and tidal channels.


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A concession is required to fly a drone on any public conservation land - apply to fly recreationally or commercially.

Westhaven contains a marine reserve in the southern third and a wildlife reserve over the remaining two-thirds:

  • Westhaven (Te Tai Tapu) Marine Reserve covers 536 hectares of tidal sandflats and channels within Whanganui Inlet, on the western coast of Golden Bay.
  • Westhaven (Whanganui Inlet) Wildlife Management Reserve stretches over 2112 hectares. It covers all tidal sandflats and channels not included in the marine reserve inside a line from Bar Point to South Head Cone.

Place overview


  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Marine reserves
    Protect our marine reserves

    They are special places that protect the species and habitats within them.

    • No fishing of any kind
    • Don't take or kill marine life
    • Don't remove or disturb any marine life or materials
    • Don't feed fish - it disturbs their natural behaviour
    • Take care when anchoring to avoid damaging the sea floor
    • Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) to report any illegal activity

In this section

Find things to do Westhaven (Whanganui Inlet) area


Enjoy the scenery

Whether the tide is in or out, the estuary has a natural beauty. Combined with coastal forest and tidal channels, it offers unique and breathtaking scenery.

Picnicking at the estuary

Those who want a relaxing day can take a drive along the road around the estuary, find a picnic spot and potter around the edge of the sand flats. Just don’t go too far out - you don’t want to get caught by the incoming tide which can creep up rapidly.

Also be mindful when swimming in the rivers or streams, as they are exceptionally swift flowing when the tide is going out.


Birdwatchers will see many waders and sea birds on the inlet and flying over farmland. In and around the forest are numerous other birds including pigeon, welcome swallow, bellbird and tui. Some, such as kingfisher and banded rail, find their food in the inlet, but live in forest or wetland, demonstrating the importance of the remaining natural fringe around the inlet.

Kayaking and canoeing

Another excellent activity is kayaking, especially for exploring the more secretive tidal arms and channels which flank the inlet, though be wary of the muddy conditions and falling tide.

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    The estuary is an enclosed, drowned river valley about 13 km long and between 2-3 km wide. As the tide enters the inlet, it divides into northeast and southwest channels before spilling out onto expansive intertidal sandflats, which dominate the estuary.

    Seagrass beds, salt marshes, tidal wetlands, dunes, cliffs, islands, rock platforms and underwater reefs are all found within the marine reserve and are important habitat to a variety of species.

    About 30 species of marine fish use the inlet at some stage of their life cycle, and it is an important breeding and nursery area for snapper, flatfish, and kahawai. Many fish enter the estuary to take advantage of the rich food supply found in the seagrass beds and sandflats.

    The area has always been important to Maori, both as a food basket and as a place to live. Sacred sites and evidence of previous occupation remain today. The manawhenua iwi are Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama and Te Atiawa.

    In colonial times, the coastal forest around the inlet was clear felled and selectively logged, the flax milled and the land mined for coal and gold. Despite these intrusions, there is little permanent ecological damage and most catchments are covered with regenerating forest. 

    History and culture

    Tikanga Maori

    The Westhaven Inlet area has always been important to Maori, both as a food basket and as a place to live. Sacred sites and evidence of previous occupation remain today.

    Ki a koutou katoa

    The manawhenua iwi are Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama and Te Atiawa.

    Getting there

    To get to Westhaven, follow the road from Collingwood to Farewell Spit, taking the left-hand fork just north of Pakawau.

    The wildlife management reserve is about six kilometres on, just beyond the turn off to Kaihoka Lakes. Continue on along Dry Road which leads around the inlet to Mangarakau, following the estuary shoreline most of the way.

    Know before you go

    • The marine reserve totally protects all plant and animal life within its boundaries, benefiting not only fish and shellfish, but birdlife as well. Fishing and shooting are not permitted in the marine reserve.
    • The wildlife management reserve allows for fishing and game bird hunting.
    • Trail bikes or vehicles are not allowed off-road in either reserve, except at boat launching areas.
    • Vehicle launching of boats is permitted 200 metres past the Kaihoka Road turnoff on Dry Road, and at Mangarakau Wharf.
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