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Te Urewera National Park (reviews, reports)

Te Urewera National Park(1st page) Directions/Transport Site map Birds found here Photos / Images Reviews/Trip reports

Reviews & trip reports

New Zealand was the fabled land of birds, its biota so strange we would dismiss it as science fiction if we did not have the fossil record to prove it. There were some 70 species of birds found nowhere else in the world, more than a third of them were flightless and almost a quarter of them nocturnal. Many of the birds occupied niches for which, in other ecosystems, mammals evolved.

The early European explorers and naturalists likened New Zealand to a lost Arcadia, the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Although they had no concept of continental drift, they realised that New Zealand must have been isolated before the evolution of large mammals.

Today, New Zealand's forests are quiet, eerily so, empty of birds compared to those of pre-human times. The unique and vulnerable species were exterminated by hunting, habitat destruction and the introduction of mammalian predators. All we now have left are the remnants of a lost fauna.

For a long time it was thought that the only way to save the remnants of our lost fauna was to keep them safe on off shore islands. New Zealand has led the way in restoration of island ecologies and any visit to one of these islands is the opportunity to hear something like the dawn chorus as it was once heard all over the country. Now we have moved beyond this and we are making a brave attempt to create "mainland islands" for the protection and even restoration of our remaining fauna and flora.

In 1996, as a member of the East Coast Conservation Board, I had the privilege of visiting one of these mainland islands at Otamatuna in the Northern Ureweras. Flying in by helicopter over extremely rugged terrain one is left with a sense of moving back in time, over a landscape that seems almost primeval. It is a landscape far removed, physically and metaphorically, from what we have created along the coastal flats, the neat farmlands and suburban gardens.

The "mainland island" concept was launched nationally in 1995 and, after submissions from the staff of the East Coast Conservancy, the Northern Urewera Ecosystem Restoration Project was created. A strategic Plan was produced with the aim of restoring approximately 50,000 hectares of the northern section of the Te Urewera National Park.

The management philosophy for restoration entails starting with one initial "core breeding area" where appropriate management techniques and a cost-effective approach can be developed. The goal is to expand these core breeding areas systemically across the 50,000-hectare area where pests and predators are controlled to levels that will allow for ecosystem recovery and the dispersal of target species such as Kokako.

Otamatuna is the first of these core breeding areas to be developed in the northern Ureweras and where the headquarters of the project is to be found, a small group of huts perched precariously on a ridge. Otamatuna is approximately 1300 hectares in size and is situated on the eastern flank of the Waimana Valley, equidistance between Whakatane and Opotiki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, straddling the divide between the Tauranga and Te Waiiti rivers. The forest is largely comprised of beech forest to the south and rimu and tawa forest to the north and contains nearly the full complement of all extant North Island forest birds.

Pest management includes mustelid, possum, deer and pig control. Possums have been reduced in numbers to less than 5% of residual catch, a level considered necessary before bird numbers will increase.

After lunch, we headed off to find Kiwi. Mustelid control has resulted in an increased juvenile survival rate of 43 per cent which compares with an estimated 20 per cent required for recovery. With the help of a radio receiver and an especially trained dog, we found a juvenile Kiwi which was duly tagged. How many of us have actually seen a kiwi, let alone handled it.

Along the way Kokako descended upon us in response to a tape being played. Otamatuna is the site of a long-term programme of Kokako monitoring that commenced in 1992 and is part of the Kokako Recovery Programme which aims to improve the status of the North Island Kokako to 1000 pairs by the year 2020. These wonderful birds with their haunting organ-like song are a national treasure.

The next morning we got up early, and set off along the tracks to listen to the dawn chorus. Although it was not as Cook so famously described it in his journals, we were not disappointed. Titipounamu, the rifleman. Popokatea, the whitehead, were there, as well as Kaka, Miromiro, the tomtit, and Toutouwai, the bush robin. I could hear the sound of the Kereru's wings and the voices of the Tui and Korimako, the bellbird, along with chirpy Piwakawaka, the fantail. Kokako who were not at all shy in responding to tapes and descended from the canopy to check us out.

Overall, indicators of species recovery and ecosystem health suggest a dramatic recovery of biodiversity within the Otamatuna area but the remainder of the northern Te Urewera is experiencing continued degradation and loss of fauna and flora. There were 800 odd Kokako when they were first monitored. Although the numbers of breeding pairs have increased substantially in the Otamatuna area, the numbers have not improved much overall.

At issue is whether these efforts are sustainable, financially, ecologically, and politically. With increasing demands for spending on social welfare education and health, will future governments continue to support these projects? Our unique fauna and flora are a national resource. Can we afford not to fund their protection?

Narena Olliver, 1996

New Zealand Bird's would be greatful to birders' willing to review any of our birding pages or contribute a trip report for inclusion on these pages.
All published contributions will be acknowledged on the appropriate birding page and the contributor will receive a copy of New Zealand Bird's birdsong CD.  Contact the web diva:Narena Olliver,
(page last updated  6 July 2007)