Much-Loved Community Event Still Going Strong After 20 Years

Māui Dolphin Day and the Recycled Raft Race are back, after a two-year hiatus!

Aaron reminisced with organiser, Liz Stanway, to recollect how, and why, the two events started, and when they morphed into one.

Despite the two-year break, the kaupapa of Māui Dolphin Day and the Recycled Raft Race remains the same – as a collaborative community festival to highlight the endangered Popoto (or Māui Dolphin), as well as the importance of our marine environment and our community's creative spirit.

Saturday 2 March 2024 is the big day, with festivities kicking off at noon at Papahua Reserve in Raglan.

This year marks 20 years since the first Recycled Raft Race was held in 2004. The event also marks the start of Seaweek 2024, which runs from 2 to 10 March.

Liz Stanway was part of the team that organized the original zero-waste event, the Recycled Trolley Darby.  Started in 2001, the derby involved competitors racing their home-made recycled trollies down the precarious Stewart Street hill.

Liz describes the derby, which was held for three years, as “memorable and scary”, yet fun. It was the difficulty of putting in place sufficient risk management measures to ensure everyone’s safety – both competitors’ and spectators’ – that led the organising team to look for an equivalent event with ”softer landings”.

“Water is a little bit more forgiving,” says Liz.

And hence the Recycled Raft Race was born.

That was in 2004, and Liz recollects that the Māui Dolphin Day most likely started either the same or the following year, in 2005.

Initially, Māui Dolphin Day was the brainchild of community member, Lindsay Turner, who had been involved in dolphin conservation in the UK. Māui Dolphins had only been recognised as a sub-species in Aotearoa since 2002, when there were thought to be only 111 of them still alive. Lindsay was keen to organise a community event to highlight their plight, inform locals and lobby government agencies to take action to look after ‘the rarest dolphin in the world’.

The Whaingaroa Environment Centre subsequently got involved, and by 2006 the two events had merged into the format the community knows, and loves, today.

Liz, who is also a founding member of both Xtreme Waste and the Whaingaroa Environment Centre, recalls how in 2004 there was not widespread community understanding of Māui Dolphins and the threats they face.

“The Whaingaroa Environment Centre adopted the role as community champions for the Maui Dolphin, put a call out for the community to record sightings and learn about and try to reduce the threats to the dolphins’ survival.  At that point fishermen and recreational fishers knew about them, but a lot of the general public didn’t. Maui dolphin are not highly visible. There’s not many of them, they live in the murky water and they don't go jumping around like other dolphins do.”

Those first events were run on a shoestring, but Liz says it didn’t take long for the combined event to gain traction, with lots of individuals, community groups and organisations coming on board. The Department of Conservation was involved, as was the regional council, the WWF through Project Jonah, and local groups such as Harbour Care.

But most importantly, the community got in behind the event.

“The amount of people from the community who turned up to the event made it seem like it had been chosen by the community, as a major expression or maybe the major expression of what this community is about,” says Liz.

Since those early days, recycled raft races have popped up in communities all around the world. Liz says she wouldn’t be surprised if they had been influenced by the Whaingaroa race, as above all, the event is a huge amount of fun.

“We're so pleased to be back, and we’re super hopeful that people are out there making their rafts right now.”

Raft building is confirmed to be already underway at Raglan Community Radio (in collaboration with Dreamview Creamery and Raglan Chocolate), the Lion’s Club and at least two of the local schools.

“The school rafts are always fabulous and tend to be very large, because they always have so many people involved and lots of kids wanting to jump on board,” says Liz.

She reminds anyone who thinks they may like to enter that Xtreme Zero Waste is an ideal source of potential raft building materials.

“If you can’t find anything suitable, or what you’re looking for, ask the yard staff or at the shop,” says Liz, as some of the larger items, such as the large plastic drums popular for floatation, might be stored away from the public areas.

There is also a discount available for participants buying recycled materials from Xtreme, provided they have already registered their raft online through the environment centre’s website.

Highlights from past years, include a garden shed launched on a raft, which amazingly managed to complete the course, and an entry by the crew of the radical Earthrace boat, powered by three bicycle-pedal-driven paddles.

This year, as always, there will be a support crew on hand, including the coastguard, for safety and to help out any less-than-seaworthy craft. There is also a host of prizes up for grabs, and not just for the fastest raft either.

But really, Liz says, it’s not about the prizes. It’s about getting together as a community to have fun in the name of a good cause.

Want to enter? Check out the Whaingaroa Environment Centre’s website – – for more details.


After checking the article Liz also wanted to tell us about a “fantastic local initiative for the Maui Dolphin, thelocally grown Soul Speed dance group who took their dance performance up and down the west coast of the North Island.  A korowai of petitions was also presented by them to the Minister of Conservation at Te Papa.