New Zealand’s coasts are mainly rocky cliffs, or beaches. Exposed to wind, salt spray, and the changing tides, it’s a tough environment.
Life of the rocky coast
As you move from the top of the cliffs down to the shore you find different plant and animal zones:
- flax, grasses and ferns – in high nooks and ledges
- the red-flowered pōhutukawa tree – clinging to rocks
- orange and black lichen – just above high-tide level
- tough red seaweeds – in pools at mid-tide level.
- periwinkles – just above high tide. They graze on seaweed and lichen.
- shellfish such as cat’s eyes and limpets – at mid-tide level. They feed on seaweeds.
- mussels – on rocks at mid- to low-tide level. They filter food from sea water.
Animals that live on the rocks are able to cope when the tide goes out. They include:
At low tide, sea water stays in some pools among the boulders and cliffs. This is where you will see cockabullies and sea anemones – and crabs under the rocks.
Clumps of marram and pīngao survive in the sand dunes. Watch out for the poisonous black katipō spider (it has a red stripe) among the grasses and driftwood. At low tide tasty pipi, tuatua and other shellfish can be found. Crabs, sandhoppers and shrimps live under the sand on the beaches, and come out to feed.
Gulls live up in the cliffs and visit the shore. Birds that come down to feed at low tide include oystercatchers and herons, hunting for crabs, snails and fish. Many holidaymakers don’t realise that in summer, birds are nesting on beaches. The nests are just a hollow in the sand, or among the rocks.