Tuesday 12 December 2017

Earthquake- The Rise of Mussel Point, Marfells Beach


Kaikoura Earthquake- two minutes after midnight on the 14 November 2016, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. At a depth of only 15kms, the 'quake was felt throughout the country and was second only in magnitude to one other earthquake, one that struck Wairarapa in 1855. 

There was major damage to the small towns and settlements of North Canterbury and Marlborough, to the main state highway and rail line, and to the surrounding farmland and high country stations in the region. One of the most visual and confronting sights in the aftermath of the 'quake was of the exposed coastline with dead and dying shellfish and seaweed clinging to their now high and dry rocky homes. The uplift of the seabed along the Kaikoura coast was anything from a .5 to 2.5 metres. There were a couple of small pockets that rose over 5 metres!

While we might not have been able to see any visual differences in the seabed in front of Marfells Beach camp, it soon became apparent that there were major changes just a little further along the bay towards Cape Campbell, the Cape that forms the northern point of the Kaikoura east coast.

Mussel Point is a small rocky protrusion in the sweeping crescent of Marlborough's Clifford Bay and the one and only point to walk around on the 7km coastal walk from Marfells to Cape Campbell. As suggested by it's name, mussels are found on the rocks that form the point. And not just any mussel either, these are the world famous and highly sought-after 'super food', the New Zealand Green-lipped Mussel. In the past we've often walked to the Point at low tide to gather a few for dinner. I was keen to check the area out for any changes and while I quickly saw that there had been quite a few, it wasn't until I hunted out my old photos, I saw how dramatic the changes were!

In this series of photos I've included the before and after shots of the walk to Mussel Point. Coloured arrows mark an identifying feature in each shot so you can compare- and while the photos aren't taken in exactly the same position (and the tides may have been different) you can certainly see how much the seabed has lifted. Click the first photo to take you to a slide show and then use your back and forward arrows to view them enlarged, side by side.

Looking back towards Marfells DOC Camp

Photo #1  November 2013

Photo #1  November 2017

Photo #2  July 2016

Photo #2  November 2017

Photo #3 November 2013

Photo#3 November 2017

Heading towards Mussel Point around the beautiful rock formations at the base of the limestone cliffs.

Photo #4 November 2013

Photo #4 November 2017

Looking behind. At high tide, waves often crashed over this area before the 'quake.

Photo #5 November 2013

Photo #5 November 2017

And for me, the most dramatic and noticeable change...

Photo #6 November 2013

There's now a permanent gravel track around the bottom of the cliffs. 

Photo #6 November 2017

Mussel Point in the distance.

Photo #7 November 2013

Now silt and clay has washed down off the cliffs and smothered the rocks and papa rock platform.

Photo #7 November 2017

These photos are random ones; looking out from near the rock formations before the 'quake- 

Photo #8 November 2013

And looking back towards the formations after it.

Photo #8 November 2017

Just before Mussel Point, with a vibrant and thriving rocky tidal zone ideal for exploring the shallow pools as the tide went out.

Photo #9 November 2013

And now such a sad sight, nearly devoid of life and covered with slimy green algae and weed.

Photo #9 November 2017

And finally Mussel Point as we've never seen it before;

Photo #10 November 2017

Photo #11 July 2016

And the same rock before the 'quake with one of the resident shags perched on it.

Photo #11 November 2013

And after the 'quake...

Photo #11 November 2017

And behind the rocks shown above was this unbelievable sight; thousands upon thousands of Green-lipped Mussels clinging to every available space on the exposed rocks.

Usually rocks that are regularly exposed by the tide are home to the smaller blue mussel, (like this mussel nursery seen here on a rock near Herbetville in Hawkes Bay); they prefer to live in the first metre of the tidal zone whereas Green-lipped mussels prefer hanging out much deeper and usually well below a metre. 

Obviously when the seabed lifted at Mussel Point all those rocks and their mature cargo were thrust into the new tidal zone. 

It was actually hard to decide if the mussels were in fact still alive, but the weight of them when gently pushed and the fact that they were still attached confirmed that most of them were. 

I suspect that the small influx of water and wave movement at high tide only just keeps them alive...

...although there was plenty of evidence that many hadn't survived; the shoreline from Marfells to Mussel Point was thick with broken shells.

And yet here where it looks like the tide doesn't reach there were still large mussels clinging to life on the sunbleached rocks.

I was disappointed not to re-visit the Point at high tide to see exactly where the high tide line came to on the rocks but I had a wee accident later in the week; one you'll hear about in due course, and couldn't make it back.

It's hard to believe, while looking at these photos, that when we visited the Point to gather mussels at low-tide before the 'quake, we had to stand in knee deep water and feel around at the base of the closest rocks to find any mussels of significant size to keep. Any further out and it was much deeper and too spooky to check out. It's now hard to visualize that all these beauties were tucked up out of reach.

And just in case the brain cogs have suddenly gone into overdrive. To give the coastline a chance to recover, the gathering of shellfish and seaweed is prohibited between Marfells Beach and the Conway River out to a distance of 4 nautical miles from shore. Not that I'd be happy gathering these anyway, I'm sure they would be slightly suspect in quality.

The new normal- the (slightly distressing) view from Mussel Point to Cape Campbell.

Which got me thinking...I wonder how Ward Beach, another favourite camp site of ours has fared...more on that in this link.


  1. Thanks for sharing. At the time of the quake we were living in Rotherham which was approx 5km from the epicentre of the quake which started in Waiau. Looking at your photos you can see the force of the quake changing the shoreline dramatically.

    1. Thanks for your comments Mike, it would have been a very scary night that close to the epicentre. I've always felt sorry for Rotherham & Waiau- they really haven't had the media attention they should have to help them with the recovery. Waiau was a changed town when we came through a few months ago. So sad.

  2. Replies
    1. You're welcome Ton, the 2nd part on Ward beach is up now too- Just in case you can't find the link, here it is-


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie