Mahi Aroha: Juliet Jones’ summer with the birds

Department of Conservation —  19/02/2015

Tauhara College teacher, Juliet Jones, made the most of the Central North Island Mahi Aroha Summer Programme this January—attending four trips with her family. Read what she has to say…

Mahi Aroha and Project Tongariro logos.

A summer with the birds

If you’re not yet a Mahi Aroha fan, you should be!

My family and I took full advantage of the DOC and Project Tongariro Summer ProgrammeMahi Aroha. Our activity choices this year had a decidedly birdie flavour.

Marco Jones, immersed in the natural beauty of the wildlife sanctuary.

Marco Jones, immersed in the natural beauty of the wildlife sanctuary

Kids today learn a lot about conservation at school and just how interested they are in this stuff might surprise you.

Mahi Aroha is rich with conservation activities. It’s a great way to get out there in the field with your kids and interact with and discuss the flora and fauna of this great country—and all during their summer holidays.

Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary

Hitting a birdie might be something you don’t want to do at Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary.

This special character golf course, home to at least 50 species of bird, both indigenous and imported, is a superb example of how business and conservation can work together for the betterment of all.

My 11-year-old son Marco, who is a veritable tree-hugger and animal-lover, was very excited to go on this tripespecially by the prospect of holding a live baby kiwi.

Marco patting a rare ginger North Island Brown Kiwi chick.

Marco meets a kiwi

Expectations hit par, as Marco got to meet and pat a rare ginger North Island Brown Kiwi chick who, not surprisingly, was not quite as pleased to see us as we were to see her.

We also enjoyed an incredibly scenic golf-cart ride; informative talks by the golf-course and DOC staff on the sanctuary’s history and the success of the kiwi crèche; close encounters with noisy frogs; and the flittering behaviours of a curious tom-tit.

Marco enjoying a golf cart ride.

Enjoying a golf cart ride

This left my 11-year-old fully satisfied with his afternoon out at the golf course.

At a cost of only $5, I was a little surprised that Marco was the only child on the trip.

Wet and wild with whio

My teenagers, who are a little more difficult to get excited about bird watching, were easily convinced to go whio tracking, because it came with the lure of white water rafting on the Tongariro River.

White water rafting on the Tongariro River.

White water rafting on the Tongariro River

The trip was led by DOC whio ranger, Bubs Smith. Bubs took his first whio conservation trip as a 10 year old. He’s now considerably longer in the tooth, but is still out there protecting these precious birds.

Bubs was a wealth of information on the birds, and it was fascinating to hear about their habits and behaviours as we bobbed down the river.

We learnt the hazards to living and breeding on a river; learnt the difference between shag and whio poo; and stopped to turn rocks over looking for yummy whio tucker.

The Tongariro River Rafting guides, despite their effervescent gung-ho river tomfoolery, were also genuinely interested in the birds and quick to slow the rafts to watch the two mating pairs we managed to spot.

Of course this was all interspersed between squeals of terror and delight as we shot down rapids and bounced off rocks, which made for not only a thrilling but educational day out.

Black-backed gulls, Tama Lakes walk

I couldn’t convince any of my family to come out in January’s ‘heat-wave’ for a six hour hike on the dry and dusty volcanic lava flows of Mt Tongariro. However, the small party of hikers that did make the effort had their average age significantly reduced by the two teenage boys that joined us for the day.

View of Ngauruhoe from Tama Lakes.

View of Ngauruhoe from Tama Lakes

The boys were there, spending summer doing odd jobs for DOC, thanks to parental contacts. As a high-school teacher I couldn’t have been more impressed with these two boysby how mature and interested in the world around them they were. They showed respect for their environment, carefully dodging the sensitive vegetable sheep, and were eager to learn the names of the delicate mountain flowers and orchids they found. They constantly grilled the Project Tongariro guides with questions.

Enjoying the view: Whaiora Raharuhi and Nikau Raharuhi on the Tama Lakes Walk.

Whaiora Raharuhi and Nikau Raharuhi enjoy the view

After a few hours picking our way up and down ancient lava flows we found ourselves on a small flat plateau, smack-bang in the middle of the black-backed gull colony.

The boys were fascinated with the gulls circling and squawking above their nesting area, not happy about our presence, and were completely blown away to see the eggs in the nests.

Black-backed gull nest with eggs.

Black-backed gull eggs

The highlight was the close encounter with a black-spotted baby chick that was doing a runner off its nest due to the presence of the intruders.

“Wow, so cute, they look just like their eggs!” says one of the boys.

Poronui mountain biking

Thanks to the new owners of Poronui, there is access across their farm into the northern end of the Kaimanawa Range, which hasn’t always been the case.

Access is normally by foot only but, once a year, during Mahi Aroha, 60 participants are allowed to mountain bike their way through.

Marco mountain biking the Poronui Track.

Marco riding the Poronui Track

With January’s heat wave in full swing, this trip took its toll on my skinny son Marco, who was not too impressed with the arduous hot and dusty ride across the farm.

However, his mood took a much happier turn when we hit the walking track through the beautiful, and much cooler, beech forest into Oamaru Hut.

He buddied up with some of the other children on the trip and they took no time at all to jump and play in the ice-cold river by the hut.

Three boys playing in the river.

Playing in the ice-cold river

At Oamaru Hut: Marco Jones, Jude Carpenter and Javier Browne take a well earned break from biking.

At Oamaru Hut. Marco Jones, Jude Carpenter and Javier Browne
take a break from biking

After lunch, and an all too brief relax by at Oamaru hut overlooking the Mohaka River, it was time to saddle up and head back to our cars.

Footnote and thumbs up

Mahi Aroha’s closest translation is ‘volunteer’ and is a fitting term to replace the old ‘Summer Programme’, as conservation is no longer solely the job of DOC, nor should it be.

More and more businesses, conservation groups, clubs and local iwi are volunteering time and money to help with the enormous task of looking after the ecological health of our country.

So a special thumbs up the following businesses and organisations that made the four trips I took this summer possible: Project Tongariro, DOC, Greening Taupo, Wairakei Golf + Sanctuary, Tongariro River Rafting, Poronui.

I encourage you to support these groups wherever possible.