The Grovetown Loop was separated from the Wairau River by a brief but intense flood early in the european settlement of Marlborough. Aeons before the arrival of the pakeha, the fertile Wairau Plain had been fed by the waters of the Wairau River flowing from the Spenser Mountains to Cook Strait, providing abundant food supplies for the Maori who visited the area from 1300 AD. The lagoons and swamps of the area were rich in eels and water birds, while the lush bush was home to moa and many other birds. This rich and bountiful land was greatly prized by Maori as evidenced by their occupation from earliest time to the present day.
Captain Cook sailed into Cloudy Bay in February 1770 and noted that the landscape was covered with a forest of tall trees. Grovetown was initially known as Big Bush, a kahikatea forest of about 40 hectares, and was an island in the swampy area of the Wairau Plain. In 1858 Mrs Dick tells of her family arriving at Steam Wharf (Fell St, Grovetown) on the ‘Tasmanian Maid’. As the area was settled the bush was milled and timber was sent to other parts of the country using trading boats and the rivers before roads were accessible.
A cataclysmic flood of the Wairau River in 1861 cut through land connecting the centre of the Grovetown Lagoon with the Wairau Bar to the east. Overnight the Maori community living at Wairau Pa was separated from its urupa (cemetery) and the Steam Wharf became inaccessible to coastal shipping. The urupa remains and is still used by local iwi, Ngati Rarua, Rangitane and Ngati Toa Rangatira. The ships which sailed up the Wairau are long gone.
The waters of the Wairau river flowed straight past the old river loop and the entrance and exit of the loop silted up. Stop banks were raised along the new course of the Wairau to prevent flood-water encroaching into the old loop, and across the farmland of the lower Wairau and into the Grovetown settlement.
The now quiet river loop did not become stagnant. Nearby fresh-water springs charged the loop with fresh clear water even in times of drought. Fish and eels continued to live in the waters of the loop. Birds settled on the calm waters, fed, made nests, and raised their young.
Settlers formed outlets though the stop banks along the Wairau to allow the spring-water to drain into the Wairau, re-connecting the Loop with the Wairau river. The loop, now protected by stop banks from inundation by swirling flood-waters, and refreshed by spring water, provides a habitat for fish and birds.
Willows and invasive climbing plants overcame the banks of the old river. Silt and effluent from farming and from the Grovetown settlement polluted the waters of the loop. Some of these problems have been improved by better environmental practices. Some problems are being addressed by Te Whanau Hou, a community group focused on restoring the waters and banks of the loop to their original condition
Today a dedicated band of people from the community are working to restore and enhance the natural values of the Lagoon.This project is an iwi initiated one and began with an approach to Marlborough District Council, the Department of Conservation and Nelson Marlborough Fish and Game Council back in 2001. These groups set the recovery process in motion and today other groups and individuals have joined in to keep the project going.
The first step to launch the project was a dawn ceremony and tree planting ceremony on Saturday 2 February 2002.
We now have many volunteers and other groups and organisations involved. These people willingly give their time to attend meetings and working bees, and make donations of money, goods and services to enable the project to keep going.