By Julie Kidd, DOC’s Auckland Office.
The irony of looming bad weather thwarting the reopening of the last piece of storm damaged track on Aotea/Great Barrier Island was not lost on those gathered to witness and bless the event.
With wild storms raging around the rest of the country, somehow Auckland dodged that ‘bullet’, enabling Minister Nikki Kaye, representatives of Ngati Rehua, the Local Board, members of the Conservation Board and Great Barrier Island’s tourism operators, as well as the DOC team, to celebrate the opening of the Kaiaraara Track.
‘A once in a lifetime’ weather event
Great Barrier Island/Aotea suffered terrible storm damage in June 2014, when a disastrous weather event hit the island.
Fortunately, no lives were lost when 448 mm of rain fell over three days, with 304 mm falling in just four hours. The island’s infrastructure was severely compromised and 13 sections and 5 bridges were extensively damaged on the Kaiaraara Track (approximately one third of the iconic Aotea Track). A landslide containing 300,000 cubic meters of hillside wiped out everything in its path and completely destroyed the historic lower kauri dam.
Many homes and areas of the island were hit hard and the entire community pulled together to repair damage to the islands facilities. The DOC office (located on the west side of the island) was severely damaged so the entire Great Barrier Island/Aotea team operated from a temporary office set up in the DOC manager’s kitchen. A new island base office, more centrally located closer to Okiwi, is due for completion in the next few months.
Taking time over the tracks
It took six months to repair and reopen most of the tracks, two huts and six campsites on the island. Through hard work and sheer determination, these were repaired and ready for the summer season, opening in December 2014.
The Kairaraara Track (south/east of Port Fitzroy on the west side of the island) was heavily hit, with the track completely washed away in places and five bridges extensively damaged. Final repairs to this track have just been completed, almost two years to the day of storm.
The DOC team, iwi, local board and the community, welcomed Minister Kaye with open arms as she officially opened the track on Friday 21st May 2016.
Working better by working together
At the track reopening, following the karakia and blessing by Ngati Rehua, Minister Kaye, acknowledged the fortitude and dogged determination of the DOC team and the community that supported them.
The overall storm repair programme led by DOC Island Manager, Geoff Woodhouse, with track repairs managed by DOC Rangers Alastair Smith and John Bacon, the team, working with local and off-island contractors, completed an almost impossible task.
Geoff’s family – who had DOC staff working from their kitchen – were acknowledged by the Minister Kaye, who had kindly stepped in for Minister Barry. Island rangers Rebecca Gibson, Fenella Christian, Adrienne Kereopa, Peter Edmonds, Hene Wii, Cara Fraider, Casey Fisher, Suzette Munro – the tireless support team that got the area office functioning again – were also thanked.
Special acknowledgement was made to Ngati Rehua, our treaty partner and mana whenua who we work alongside on all key island projects and whose ongoing support is immensely valuable to the success of the island.
The Minister also made special mention the local community and Local Board members who rallied around the DOC team and worked together to ensure people and places were taken care of in the wake of the storm.
DOC Director of Operations for North North Island, Sue Reed-Thomas also congratulated the team, ‘I congratulate the Aotea/GBI team, and in particular Alastair Smith, who drove the programme of extensive repairs to the storm damaged tracks. It was fantastic to see the last piece of track blessed and formally opened so that visitors can return to the island and enjoy the multi-day walk.’
A magical multi-day walk so close to Auckland’s millions
Prior to the storm, the track had undergone significant upgrades, including the construction of three new bridges, to make it an all-weather, all-year, multi-day walking option. Much of the track follows old kauri logging and milling tramway routes and the two huts, one at Mt Heale (positioned closest to the island’s highest point of Mt Hobson/Hirakimata) and at Kaiaraara to the west, are ideally positioned to ensure walkers enjoy 3 – 5 hour excursions daily.
With 1.5m Auckland residents and 2.2m international visitors arriving in Auckland each year, the newly re-opened tracked is ready for business.
Unique wildlife on Great Barrier Island
The island is home to rare pāteke/brown teal, black petrel and North Island kākā. The raucous call of the kākā is part of the island’s atmosphere. One of New Zealand’s most endangered lizards, the chevron skink, is only found here and on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island.
Mixed coastal broadleaf dominates the landscape, and mature pōhutukawa, pūriri and kauri are re-emerging. The beautiful Great Barrier tree daisy – unique to the island – can also be seen.