News | 8 November 2021
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Oriental Bay’s biannual sand shift explained

Twice a year, we relocate sand from Freyberg Beach to Oriental Bay. But why is this, you might ask.

A yellow digger truck scooping up sand on the beach by the shoreline, with the water and land in distance behind and golden sand in foreground.

Well. Oriental Bay is an artificial beach maintained for the community by Wellington City Council.

In 2004, we purchased 22,000 tonnes of sand from the Golden Bay area in Nelson to enlarge and enhance both Freyberg and Oriental Bay beachesThe beach's sand area is now four times larger than before, and the Freyberg Beach grass area is twice as large as it once was.

Throughout the year, wind and wave action moves sand on the beach from east to west, with sand building up at the western end of the beach (near Freyberg) where it is held by the headland. If too much sand builds up at the headland, the holding area will overtop and the sand will be lost out into the harbour.

To maintain the size and shape of the beach, we undertake sand shift twice a year. On behalf of the Council, Dixon and Dunlop relocate the built-up sand from the western end to the eastern end of the beach (near the Band Rotunda)This opportunity is also used to re-shape and tidy the sand along the shore.

An orange digger at work on the beach scooping sand into an earth moving truck, with the Oriental Bay Band Rotunda and houses on hills behind.

Council’s Marine and Coastal Project Manager Joel De Boer says while reefs were built to reduce the amount of sand shiftingthe sand needs to be topped up every 10-12 years. Additional sand was last added in winter 2015, when 1,000 cubic metres of new sand was shipped up from a quarry in Dunedin.

Joel says the sand was made from weathered and crushed granite, with the grain size carefully considered to ensure minimum sand loss from wind and sea currents.

Each year, an average of 1,900m3 (or 950 m3 biannually) of sand is moved at Oriental Bay beach. The sand is shifted by truck and pushed into place by digger. One truckload is about 12m3, or 18 tonnes.

As heavy machinery does the redistribution work, the Oriental Bay and Freyberg beaches are closed during the sand shift operations to ensure public safety. The sand shift generally takes about three days to complete.

A yellow earth moving truck on Oriental Bay beach with two diggers on the sand in the background and the concrete seawall on the left.

Joel says Oriental Bay typically experience 30 significant weather events a year, which contributes to the sand migration. The sand shifts occur in May and October each year.

And so that is the story of Oriental Bay’s biannual sand shift, and how we keep the beach looking tip top for Wellingtonians and visitors to enjoy.

Want to find out more about Oriental Bay? Check out our throwback Thursday history article.