Tū Mai Taonga: an island unlike any other

July 13, 2022 3:41 pm

Bright blue mushrooms, naturally formed hybrid trees and towering kauri are only a few of the things that make this slice of paradise so special, but it will take some mahi to keep it this way.

Located on the remote and beautiful Aotea/Great Barrier Island, the recently funded Tū Mai Taonga project is led by Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea Trust. The project team are completing feasibility and planning operations to deliver programmes to remove ship rats, kiore and feral cats from the landscape and to create social change that will ensure their continued absence. The island is already free of possums, mustelids and Norway rats.

Predator Free 2050 Limited Project Support Manager Melissa Brignall-Theyer recently travelled to the island to meet with the project team and to see first-hand how they plan to roll out the mahi and overcome the challenges of a diverse and sometimes challenging terrain.

Project Support Manager Melissa Brignall Theyer surveys her surroundings

Within an hour of arriving on the island Melissa was hiking up to Hirikimata (Mt Hobson), through the sheer rock faces of Windy Canyon and winding walking track.

Partway up the mountain, the team were lucky enough to find werewere-kokako, one of the beautiful blue mushrooms famous for growing at the top of the Maunga. But that wouldn’t be the only rare thing they would see. Melissa and the team were not the only ones on the track that day and passed contractors surveying the vegetation which included the prostrate kānuka/mānuka hybrid species only found on Aotea.

Left – Dave Braddock (Finance and IT Manager) holds the blue mushroom that had blown down the Maunga. Right – kānuka/mānuka hybrid prostrate

After 1.5 hours of hiking Melissa was standing at the top of the highest point on Aotea. From this position the vast future project area could be seen, predominantly regenerating bush, with the plan being to start operations in the north and work towards south.

Left – The project area view from the top. Right – The scenery view on the way to the top

Melissa and the team spent the evening at a Port Fitzroy DOC hut sharing a meal of local culinary delights and the project’s ambitious plans for the future. The sound of kākā screeching as they flew over Port Fitzroy signalled it was time for day two to start.

The team made their way to Glenfern Sanctuary. The 83ha sanctuary provides a safe haven for the native flora and fauna of Aotea. It is one of the many groups working towards a predator free Aotea alongside Tū Mai Taonga.

From a high point within the sanctuary, the team were able to see some of the smaller offshore islands that Tū Mai Taonga may also work on in the future. Nearby is a short canopy walk built by the sanctuary’s founder to lead to a large kauri – how the kauri survived without being felled back in the 1800s is anyone’s guess.

Left – Chris Giblin (Operations Manager) points out the smaller offshore Islands. Right Makere Jenner (Project lead) stands next to the famous kauri tree.

Later that morning, a steering group hui including mana whenua and community representation discussed the draft operational plan. The presentation highlighted that although challenging, it will be an exciting project that will push the boundaries and increase knowledge of rat and feral cat eradication from large inhabited Islands.

A stunning and uniquely wild island, Aotea and its native wildlife are something to be protected and treasured. Although Melissa missed out on seeing the tāiko (black petrel), which breeds on the Maunga (as they had left for the season) the island still hummed with the sounds of life and a hope for a predator free future.

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