Young Nicks Head is a spectacular headland of soft grey mudstone that forms the southern end of Poverty Bay at Gisborne, on the North Islands East Coast. Like most of the East Coast, the majority of the Poverty Bay region is underlain by this erodible papa rock which, when combined with a storm-prone climate and an unfortunate history of deforestation, means that this region experiences some of the highest erosion rates in the world.
The Waipaoa River is the largest river in Poverty Bay, rising near the main divide of the Raukumara Range and reaching the sea at the tidal Wherowhero Lagoon immediately adjacent to Young Nicks Head. Thanks to the rapid erosion of its upper catchment this flood-prone river carries an extremely high sediment load, dumping many millions of tonnes of gravel, sand and mud into the sea each year. Frequent historic floods have caused the Waipaoa to change its course numerous times, shifting its mouth to and fro across the breadth of Poverty Bay. Now, however, the Waipaoas course is more or less fixed in place as a result of extensive stopbanks that were constructed as part of the Waipaoa Flood Control Scheme.