Kiwi Forever is a week-long leadership in conservation scholarship based at Tirorangi Marae, Ōhakune. In March 2018, 16 rangatahi (young people) from seven colleges participated. A key focus was learning about how the Department of Conservation works alongside Ngāti Rangi. Three participants reflect on some of the highlights.
We all arrived with different expectations, cultural backgrounds and a mix of anticipation and nerves. The three of us were already convinced about the importance and value of conservation, but here was an opportunity to really see it in action. In particular, we learned heaps about how valuable it is for the Department of Conservation to work alongside tangata whenua.
Environmental wellbeing underpins Māori ways of seeing and being in the world. Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the river, and the river is me.
Learning alongside Ngāti Rangi
Our first field trip took us to Rotokura Lake with Ngāti Rangi and an Australian Aboriginal group. The feeling was one of close connection to Papatūānuku. Because it is such a tapu (sacred) place, you could feel the energy of the tūpuna (ancestors) surrounding you.
The next day, we visited the Waihianoa River in its pristine state near its source and then at two hydroelectric power dam intakes. This showed us what Ngāti Rangi had lost and how culturally painful this was and continues to be. It also reminded us of how easily we tend to take power and water for granted, not thinking about where it comes from and at what cost. It was an eye-opener to realise that ‘sustainable energy’ still comes at a cost!
An introduction to pest control
After immersing ourselves in Ngāti Rangi ways of being, we met at the Department of Conservation on day three. Here we learned about pest control – humane approaches to trapping, how to set up a trapline, the impacts of pests on New Zealand’s native ecosystems and the wide range of work that DOC does. We also got hands-on in a biocontrol project, identifying and catching heather beetles (Lochmaea suturalis) at the Tongariro Chateau and releasing them at the start of the Tongariro Crossing to help manage the heather invasion.
Both heather and the heather beetle are introduced species. The heather was introduced over 100 years ago as a habitat for grouse birds, which were going to be hunted. The grouse never arrived, but the heather flourished and quickly became widespread. It is unwanted because it forms dense stands that shade out native plants.
Exploring issues from multiple perspectives
In the evening, we used debates to explore some of the issues that we had been learning about and to understand different perspectives:
- Who should own the river? (Different stakeholders included Ngāti Rangi, Genesis Energy, river rafting companies and farmers.)
- Using 1080 to control pests. (Different stakeholders included hunters, DOC, anti-1080 lobbyists and farmers.)
This was both helpful and challenging – you had to carefully consider different perspectives to get into role, and this made you a little more open-minded to why people think about an issue in different ways.
Releasing kiwi and whio
A special highlight of the week was meeting Otua the kiwi, six whio and Fern the whio dog. Ani got to release Otua, who had been nurtured as a chick at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, grown as a teenager in Taupō’s Wairākei Sanctuary and released in Tongariro National Park.
Zoe and Brooke took the whio – even more endangered than the kiwi! – from the whio crèche at the Tongariro National Trout Centre to their new homes.
Brooke reflected at the end of the week:
“This week, I’ve learned that, in Māori culture, it’s believed that every single thing has its own vibration – a heartbeat. While this may be a traditional belief that’s been passed on, it’s also scientifically true – every molecule has its own vibration. Over time, it’s been found that, while traditional beliefs and values and the ever-evolving principles of modern science have their benefits individually, some pretty great things can happen when the two come together, particularly regarding conservation.
“Modern science can struggle to understand the aspects of traditional beliefs that cannot be measured, and it’s because of this that the importance of these aspects to indigenous people is not forgotten. The way we relate to the natural world is hugely important to indigenous cultures.
“Something I’ve learned from Matua Keith about the beliefs of Ngāti Rangi goes along the lines of this: We come from the Earth. We are part of the ecosystem, and the ecosystem is part of us. The more we connect to the natural world, the more opportunities we will have to help heal the environment.
By combining traditional values and modern science, Ngāti Rangi has helped to form a conservation effort that will help restore this environment and protect it for future generations.”
The Hub has a suite of resources introducing whio and exploring the use of biocontrol and 1080 to help manage the impact and spread of introduced pest plants and animals. You can also find out more about kaitiakitanga and the responsibilities of kaitiaki.
Learn more about how effective heather beetles are at controlling heather in this 2021 update from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Improved Establishment Success of Heather Beetles, 25 Years Post Release .
Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, describes the Tongariro Power Development as “an ambitious scheme in the early 1970s, diverting the headwaters of several rivers through tunnels and canals, so that they flowed through the Tokaanu power station and into Lake Taupō. From there the water flowed through a series of dams along the Waikato River. Protests from the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe and from fishermen were largely ignored by successive governments, which were keen to increase electricity generation.” This map shows the catchment area, canals, dams and power station.
This article was written with Brooke Waldram, Zoe Rainbow and Aniwaniwa Maniapoto-Tapp. Kiwi Forever is hosted by Ngāti Rangi in association with the Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy, with additional sponsorship from Untouched World.