Like so many New Zealanders, I’m attached to our native birds and forests, and I love spending time in the bush if at all possible. I have the real privilege of being able to stay on my parents’ conservation block from time to time, where we can get much closer to conservation efforts.
Mum and Dad’s place is called Punanga, and it’s at Tarata, out the back of Inglewood in Taranaki. It’s a mix of farmland and bush and wetlands, and a huge proportion of the property has been put into a Queen Elizabeth II trust, so that it will be held as a conservation estate in perpetuity.
Punanga has been identified as Key Native Ecosystem by the Taranaki Regional Council, because it has high biodiversity values. The bush is typical Taranak podocarp and hardwood, and the major trees there are tawa, rimu and kahikatea. I love kahikatea trees, for the way that they look like a cumulus cloud. They also have totara there, and this one is my favourite. It stands on a little uplift of land, with runnels of water on either side, so it has never been able to grow very big.
The wetlands along the valley floor are extensive, and even though the ponds were human made, they have become one of the more significant wetlands in Taranaki. They are home to putangitangi (paradise duck) as well as the more common parera (grey duck) and pukeko. The very rare putoto (spotless crake) is also found there, as well as matata (fern birds), and incredible numbers of tui. Kahu (harrier hawks) patrol the valley, and up the top end, right up in the bush, there are karearea (falcon) nesting. And kiwi have been heard there too.
We were there for New Year’s Eve, and we managed a walk along part of the ridge line. The ridge line is fine when you get up to it, but it’s 15 minutes hike up a very, very steep hill to get there, so you need to be determined to do it. Mum suggested that I should keep an eye out for some of our native orchids, and I found two: microtis unifolia in the open grass at the top of the ridge, and chiloglottis cornuta nestled in pine needles.
Of course, conservation in New Zealand is all about killing small furry animals, and Dad has an extensive trapping programme in place. The Taranaki Regional Council is very supportive: some of their staff maintain parts of the trap line, and they’ve helped considerably with planting native trees and plants.
It’s private property, but Mum and Dad are very open to people visiting and staying, and it takes only a phone call to get permission. The usual rules apply: no shooting, take your rubbish with you, leave gates as you find them, and above all, look after the bush and the wildlife.
I love going there. It’s very peaceful. No internet, no phones, no electricity. You can get mobile coverage, if you hike 15 minutes up the very steep hill to the ridge line. There’s hot running water, provided you’ve fired up the wood stove first so that the wetback heats the water. It’s a great place to go to just turn off for a few days. I love sitting on the verandah in the evening, listening to the last soft song from the tui, and then hearing the ruru start to call. It was the perfect place to go for the last day of 2016.
As for why Mum and Dad do it? They love our bush and our birds, and they want them to be there for their children, and grandchildren, and for all New Zealanders. They see Punanga as a way of giving back to the community, and of helping to maintain and enhance a treasure for the future.