Get out of the gym and into the bush

Department of Conservation —  10/05/2021

By Leonie Johnsen, DOC Ranger

It’s been in the news lately, from a population of just 300 breeding pairs in the late ’90s, the North Island kōkako now boasts 2000 pairs. Two thirds of these kōkako populations are managed by iwi and community groups. The Rotorua region has a number of groups, whose tireless efforts have helped achieve these great results.

North Island kōkako. 📷: David Cook Wildlife Photography. | ©

Recently I went to both the Kaharoa Kōkako Trust and the Rotoehu Ecological Trust workdays. These care groups hold regular working bees – generally monthly throughout the year to do all the tasks that need doing; clearing the trap lines to keep open access to the bait stations, monitoring, filling and resetting traps. In a nutshell, they protect kōkako by killing rats and possums.

On both mornings after arriving on site, the group of volunteers were prepped with a health and safety briefing, then paired off to work together in the bush. The care groups are really grateful for any help received, the more people who participate in a workday means a greater area can be covered with better protection for the birds. In the Rotoehu Forest we were updating the markers and clearing a trap line when we came to an area where there had been a significant windfall of large trees. This provided a light filled gully, where we heard the kōkako sing with other birds as long and loud as if it were the dawn chorus. We stopped for a while just to enjoy the experience of being in this special place. Having not heard a kōkako sing before in the bush it was a fantastic payback for the work that we were doing.

North Island kōkako

I found the tasks reasonably physically challenging, lots of climbing up and down hills and clambering over windfall, but also meaningful and spiritually satisfying. When I headed home after both sessions, I’m embarrassed to admit it was straight to the couch for a lie down!  It’s kind of hard to explain, but having a conservation outcome, as well as working together with other people on a project – while getting plenty of exercise was a really satisfying feeling – better than a gym workout any day!


Here are the dates coming up in 2021, no experience or special equipment required, friendly people show you what to do. Workdays consist of 3-4 hours morning work followed by snacks and drinks and help with transport can be organised. Just do it!


WORKDAYS 2021: May 15th; June 19th. Ongoing 3rd Saturday of each month.
Collecting the rat monitoring cards Saturday 26th June.
Pest control days will be 17th and 31st of July for pre-baiting. 
Then 7th & 21st August plus 11th September when those with controlled substance licences will be essential and those without will have to be with someone who does.
Post operation monitoring, 9th October.
CONTACTS: Sue – or
Graeme Young 0274 527 168

The Kaharoa Kōkako Trust

The Kaharoa Kōkako Trust was formed in 1997 by a group of local residents who wanted to save the few kōkako that remained in the area. The Kaharoa Conservation Area being a rugged piece of Crown land about halfway between Rotorua and Te Puke as the crow flies. Covered in native forest, the conservation area is bounded by steep gorges. In pre-European times the area was occupied by Ngati Rangiwewehi and Tapuika with many pa and other important cultural sites remaining in the area. Access is gained off the end of Kapukapu Road via Kaharoa Road, which runs off the Tauranga Direct Road. Kapukapu Road is unsealed for about 2km at the far end. A carpark and shelter with interpretive panels are located at the end of the road.


WORKDAYS 2021: Saturday 29 May, Sunday 27 June, Saturday 24 July.
CONTACT: Margaret – or

Information on the Trust and how to join the group can be found at

Rotoehu Ecological Trust

Rotoehu Ecological Trust currently manages around 670 hectares of native bush in Rotoehu Forest, located around 30 minutes North East of Rotorua on Rotoehu Road. While Rotoehu Forest comprises of some 3,500 hectares, the Trust manages land in Pongakawa Ecological Area and the newly established Otari Block.Rotoehu Forest has sites of significance for Ngati Makino, Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa (Bay of Plenty). Ngati Makino have an active role in supporting the work of DOC in relation to kōkako recovery.

Snacks and morning tea provide for volunteers. 📷: Leonie Johnsen

Introducing KEEP (Kōkako Ecosystem Expansion Programme)

A new project is getting underway to expand and connect kōkako habitat in the Bay of Plenty. It’s a plan that will encourage kōkako already thriving in isolated pockets to connect via ecological ‘corridors’, linking the managed Bay of Plenty kōkako populations. It is envisaged, if successful, that Kōkako will disperse across the landscape and share genetics, that will increase species resilience. This would then allow kōkako numbers to thrive in protected and healthy ecosystems. The first major goal of KEEP is to link the Kaharoa and Otanewainuku populations, a distance of 5kms as the crow (kōkako) flies, across both public and private land.

Alfred Duval as the Chair of KEEP says initial conversations started more than 3 years ago and he is excited how everything is starting to come together, “every small step involves cooperation and buy-in from all landholders, with new skills and knowledge needed to be developed to achieve the goal”.

There are also many knock on benefits to new research opportunities in kōkako management, Duval enthuses, “connecting kōkako populations through corridors of suitable habitat has not been attempted on a scale such as this before, it’s at the bleeding edge of conservation concepts in New Zealand.” Developing these standards for ecosystem corridors, could then potentially be applied in other areas of the country, says Duval.

If you love kokako and would like to get involved, volunteer opportunities will be sure to follow. Check out the Kaharoa Kōkako Trust contact above in the first instance if you would like to help the kōkako.

2 responses to Get out of the gym and into the bush


    We can’t afford to lose them. I just want to say thank you to these team of conservationist. More power to you and more supports will come. Regards!


    Eve Kilmartin 13/05/2021 at 8:02 pm

    I heard a recorded song of the Kokako from a DOC website while living in Melbourne for many years. I’ve never forgotten the spinetingling haunting melodies of thier calls since. I understand your stopping in the valley when you heard them, it is nothing short of arresting to ones wairua hearing them. I have placed it on my bucket list to hear them in person which I will do with my grandchildren soon. The incredible volunteers who give time and effort to make this happen plus maintain pest control are to be commended. I look forward to gracing those same forests and valleys Kokako live in and hope thier song leaves an indeliable mark on my grandchildren luring them home to Aotearoa as they did me😆😇😃💖👍.