New Zealand may be famous for its unspoiled nature, the arrival of European immigrants brought along the introduction of land mammals, pests and predators, which have ever since posed a threat on native wildlife.
In an attempt to rescue endangered native flora and fauna, several initiatives have been taken over the years. As of now, New Zealand boasts of 14 national parks, 15 wildlife sanctuaries and a large number of other conservation lands. It is in the sanctuaries where serious efforts have been carried out to restore the country’s natural ecosystems.
On a sunny day in November, we headed to the country’s largest such restoration project: Mount Maungatautari, about an hour drive southeast from Hamilton.
A work in progress, the volcanic peak is already surrounded by the world’s longest pest-proof fence, which will measure a neat 47 kilometers once completed.
For biologists, Mount Maungatautari offers a feast of ancient flora and endangered fauna, but you don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate the natural environment. The sanctuary is home to an immense array of majestic ferns, bright red rata trees, towering rimu trees; endangered birds like Kaka and Takahe; frogs, geckos and other reptiles; insects with unpronounceable names… Even the Kiwi bird, national symbol of the country, has been reintroduced. Close your eyes and cherish the birds’ melodies. They will mesmerize your ears regardless whether you know their names or how endangered they are.
A hike in one of the enclosures will in fact enthral all of your senses, and there are numerous walks for all levels of fitness. Several short walks have been marked clearly. Alternatively, you can go to the summit and back, a hike that will take approximately half a day.
Or, if you would like to learn more about the mountain’s flora and fauna as you go, book a guided tour with one of the volunteers.
We, for our part, decided to take a couple of loops on our own, but not before we received a long introduction to the project and all the species we would possibly see and hear on our walk by one of the volunteers at the visitor centre.
Aside the fact that we did not bring any binoculars aside, our untrained eyes and ears did not locate any of the native birds, reptiles or insects the volunteer had shown us large images of. We simply experienced the sounds, smells and sights of the forest, in addition to the occasional bird dropping, a gentle reminder that we were merely humble visitors – introduced species on this native ground.
Photo credits: Petri van Beuzekom