Fed by two lagoons and the Waiho River, this marine reserve forms a protective buffer for these waterways and wetlands. It lies alongside parts of Westland Tai Poutini National Park and Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.
Waiau Glacier Coast Marine Reserve is named for its proximity to Franz Josef and other glaciers, which are just 30 km from the coast. “Waiau” is an alternative spelling for the Waiho River.
The reserve extends nearly 11 km south from Kohuamarua Bluff – near Ōkārito – to Omoeroa Bluff, and about 4 km out to sea.
Moraine debris from the glaciers has created distinctive lumpy headlands along the reserve. Over thousands of years gravel and sand have been swept north by the Westland Current, creating a buffer zone against ferocious seas.
Calm wetlands and lagoons have formed within this zone, creating an abundant and distinctive habitat. The reserve itself protects 46 square km of coastal sea beyond these wetland systems, and a short distance up the Waiho River.