A Summer with the Birds

If you’re not yet a Mahi Aroha fan, you should be!  My family and I again took full advantage of this year’s summer programme, and our choices this year had a decidedly birdie flavour. Kids today learn a lot about the climate and species conservation at school and just how interested they are in this stuff might surprise you.  Mahi Aroha is rich with conservation activities and is a great way you can get out there in the field with your kids, interact with, and discuss, the flora and fauna of this great country – and all during their summer holidays.

Waiaraki Golf Course, Sanctuary & Kiwi Crèche

Hitting a birdie might be something you don’t want to do at Waiaraki Golf and Sancturary.  This special character golf course, which is home to at least 50 species of bird both indigenous and imported, is a superb example of how business and conservation can work together for the betterment of all.  My 11 year old son Marco, who is a veritable tree-hugger and animal-lover, was very excited to go on this trip, especially about the prospect of holding a live baby kiwi.

Patting the rare Ginger North Island Kiwi at Waiaraki + Sanctuary

Patting the rare Ginger North Island Kiwi at Waiaraki + Sanctuary

Expectations hit par, as Marco got to meet and pat a rare ‘ginga’ North Island Brown Kiwi chick, who not surprisingly was not quite as pleased to see us as we were to see her.  We also enjoyed an incredibly scenic golf-cart ride, informative talks by the golf-course and DOC staff on the sanctuaries history and the success of the kiwi crèche, close encounters with noisy frogs and the flittering behaviours of a curious tom-tit.  This left my 11 year old fully satisfied with his afternoon out at the golf course, however at a cost of only $5, I was a little surprised that Marco was the only child on the trip.

“The kiwi’s feathers are prickly” … “My favourite part was encountering a tom-tit that seemed to like me”

Whio Tongariro River Raft Trip

My teenagers, who are a little more difficult to get excited about bird watching, were easily convinced to go Whio tracking because it came with the lure of white water on the Tongariro River.

Fun times on the Tongaririo River

Fun times on the Tongaririo River

The trip was led by D.O.C field worker Bubs, who took his first Whio conservation trip as a 10 year old, and now considerably longer in the tooth, is still out their protecting these precious birds.  Bubs was a wealth of information on the birds, and it was fascinating to hear about their habits and behaviours as we bobbed down the river. We learnt the hazards to living and breeding on a river, learnt the difference between Shag and Whio poo as we floated by potential Whio territory, and stopped to turn rocks over looking for yummy Whio tucker.  The Tongariro River Rafting guides, despite their effervescent gung-ho river tomfoolery, were also genuinely interested in the birds and quickly slowing rafts to watch the two mating pairs we did manage to spot.   Of course all this was interspersed between squeals of terror and delight as we shot down rapids and bounced off rocks, which made for not only a thrilling but educational day out.

A beautiful day for Whio spotting on the Tongariro

A beautiful day for Whio spotting on the Tongariro

“Oh my god I thought that rock was going to tip us out” … “I found the Whio stuff really interesting” – Monica (18 years old)

Black Backed Gulls – Tama Lakes Walk

I couldn’t convince any family members to come out in January’s ‘heat-wave’ for a 6 hour hike upon the dry and dusty volcanic lava flows of Mt Tongariro.  However our small party of hikers had their average age significantly reduced by the two teenage boys that joined us for the day.  The boys were there as part of their summer job doing odd jobs for DOC thanks to parental contacts, and as a high-school teacher I couldn’t have been more impressed with these two boys, and by how mature and interested in the world around them they were.  They showed respect for their environment carefully dodging the sensitive vegetable sheep, and were eager to learn the names of the delicate mountain flowers and orchids they found.  They constantly grilled the senior Tongariro-Taupo volunteers with questions that were acting as our guides for the day.

The Boys take in the scenery atop the lava flows

The Boys take in the scenery atop the lava flows

After a few hours picking our way up and down ancient lava flows we found ourselves on a small flat plateau, smack-bang in the middle of the black-backed gull colony. The boys were fascinated with the gulls circling and squawking above their nesting area, not happy about our presence, and were completely blown away to see the eggs in the nests.  The highlight was the close encounter with a black-spotted baby chick that was doing a runner off its nest due to the presence of the intruders.  “Wow, so cute, they look just like their eggs!” says one of the boys.

Black Backed Gull nest and eggs on Mt Tongariro

Black Backed Gull nest and eggs on Mt Tongariro

Poronui Mountain Bike Ride

Thanks to the new owners of Poronui, there is access across their farm into the northern end of the Kaimanawa Range, which hasn’t always been the case in the past.  Access is normally by foot only, but once a year during Mahi Aroha, 60 participants are allowed to mountain bike their way through.  With January’s heat wave in full swing, this trip took its toll on my skinny son Marco, who was not too impressed with the arduous hot and dusty ride across the farm.  However his mood took a much happier turn when we finally hit the walking track through the beautiful and much cooler beech forest into Oamaru Hut.  “My favourite part was the bush walk”  He also got to buddy up with two of the three other children on the trip who took no time at all to jump and play in the ice-cold river by the hut.  “I saw a fish in the river” exclaims Marco!  After lunch and an all too brief relax at Oamaru hut overlooking the Mohaka River it was time to saddle up and head back to our cars.

Swimming in the Mohaka at Oamaru Hut

Swimming in the Mohaka at Oamaru Hut

Lunch at Oamaru Hut

Lunch at Oamaru Hut

FOOTNOTE & THUMBS UP

Mahi Aroha’s closest translation is ‘volunteer’ and it is fitting term to replace the name of DOC’s summer programme, as conservation is no longer solely the role of DOC, nor should it be.  More and more businesses, conservation groups, clubs and local iwi are volunteering time and money to help DOC with the enormous task of looking after the ecological health of our country.  So a special thumbs up the following businesses and organisations that made the four trips I took this summer possible: D.O.C, Greening Taupo, Waiaraki Golf Club, Tongariro River Rafting, Tongariro Taupo Conservation, and Poronui.  I encourage you to support these groups where possible.

Mt Tongariro on a Scorcher January day.

Mt Tongariro on a Scorcher January day.

Advertisements

About Juliet Jones

Beauty is everywhere, if you but open your eyes
This entry was posted in Central Plateau and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s