Wifi in the wilderness

Department of Conservation —  04/08/2023 — 3 Comments

In the eastern Taranaki hinterland, innovation and digital technology drive the conservation efforts of Jobs for Nature funding recipients Eight Hundred Trust. Jeff Neems visits Miranda Wells and Daryl Egarr at their isolated property.

The Eight Hundred Trust operate the gateway to the Matemateonga range – Omoana Project – Rotokare to Omoana Biodiversity Corridor.

Daryl Egarr working on a repeater station as the sun sets over Taranaki Maunga.
📷 Eight Hundred Trust

At the end of a long and windy gravel road in an isolated part of southeast Taranaki, there is a faded white shipping container, pockmarked with lichen.

It seems somewhat out of place, almost abandoned. Beyond the shipping container there is a muddy track, winding into rugged and manuka-clad landscape. Out of sight, several kilometres into the steep hills – and through several gates and fences – sits a wooden hut.

The hut is ramshackle, a hodge-podge of timber materials, tired old iron roof and a decking with bits missing.

But take a closer look, and the smart thinking of landowners Eight Hundred Trust – Miranda Wells, her brother Bjorn, and Miranda’s partner Daryl Egarr – become evident. There’s a cluster of solar panels on the hut’s roof, there’s a camera – one of those security devices you might expect to see in a shop or office building – and a proper flushing toilet.

And most remarkably there’s wifi.

The ramshackle hut tucked away amongst the steep hills.
📷 Jeff Neems

Wifi, here? In the middle of the Taranaki nowhere? Where I can’t even get signal on either of my phones, let alone check my email or post a picture of this beautiful place to Facebook?

With a wry grin, as he sips his tea and reaches for a chocolate biscuit, Daryl explains “yep, there’s wifi here… do you want the password?”

He motions out the window, diving into an explanation of the extensive work done over the years to install repeater stations to transmit signals. Each repeater station is protected by a small but sturdy shelter, the result of the labours of father and son team Ian and Koby Gavin, who work for the trust and whose roles are funded by the Jobs for Nature programme rolled out by the Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From left to right: Miranda Wells, Daryl Egarr, Koby Gavin.
📷 Jeff Neems

Daryl and Miranda elaborate, with enthusiasm and detail, on the remarkable data-driven conservation they have underway on their property, and their drive to innovate species protection with smart thinking and real-time information. You can read about that here.

“Jobs for Nature was, I consider, life-changing,” Miranda says.

But the couple’s conservation journey began long before the wifi repeaters and cameras, and before the Jobs for Nature funding.

Searching for a hunting block, they found the original 800-acre bush-clad block in 2013.

A section of the Eight Hundred Trust’s expansive property.
📷 Jeff Neems

“There’s no real grazing here,” says Miranda… “there’s a few clearings.”

Adds Daryl: “It’s just not suitable for farming.”

But it is suitable for kiwi – western brown kiwi to be specific.

Daryl and Miranda were on their way back from some weed-clearing work just a few months after taking over the first of four blocks which comprise what is now a 3,800-acre property.

Ironically, they’d stopped on a ridge for phone reception when they spotted small holes in the soil – holes made by kiwi beaks as the animals searched for food.

The discovery of kiwi at their site came as a surprise to Daryl and Miranda.
📷 Jeff Neems

“We’d probably heard them at night, we just didn’t know… we realised (kiwi) was what we’d been hearing,” Daryl says.

“It was mind-blowing,” says Miranda. “We had kiwi here!”

“We kind of panicked at first,” Daryl reveals. “We realised no-one was doing any conservation here – if we wanted to keep these kiwi alive, we’d have to do it. But then we realised the kiwi had lived here for a while, with no predator control… and so they must’ve been pretty strong.”

Hard work, and hard saving took over – and  a determined effort to implement a trapping regime across their land followed.

The Eight Hundred Trust team carrying traps.
📷 Eight Hundred Trust

Catching stoats would be a particular highlight, and a picture of the dead pest would be circulated among family and friends. It was tough physical labour, lugging traps across rugged terrain, and only just keeping on top of the work required. Weekends and public holidays would be spent managing a slowly growing network of traplines for rats and stoats, while nights would be taken up shooting possums.

“We’d even work Christmas Day,” says Miranda. “We were committed from day one, but we always had strong aspirations to do better.”

Adds Daryl: “We’d be out here all weekend, and all we’d have done is get around the traps we had… no spare time or energy to push out more traps we knew we needed, because our ‘labour units’ were finite.”

The team spend countless hours removing pests to protect the kiwi on their property.
📷 Eight Hundred Trust

Data everywhere

Driven by a desire to be as efficient and effective as possible with their species protection, the IT-meets-conservation work began, taking advantage of Bjorn and Daryl’s collective IT and telecommunications nous.

They realised they couldn’t be at the property seven days a week – and implementing technology would do what they couldn’t, keeping an eye on things all the time.

One of the first things they did was attach an antenna to the hut to link to the internet. A wireless internet service provider helped, allowing them to “beam” the internet from their Stratford home the 30-odd kilometres to their rural property.

Daryl working on one of the repeater stations.
📷 Eight Hundred Trust

Once the cameras and internet were in place, Bjorn began development of a system using “machine learning” – software learning to identify objects of interest, especially cats, stoats and rats.

Koby Gavin, one of the trust’s Jobs for Nature-funded employees, is now upskilling himself so he can deploy moveable cameras and thus deliver more coverage. More coverage means more success suppressing predators, and more protection for native species.

Fast-forward a few years, the Eight Hundred Trust is now well-connected in the Taranaki conservation community.

The trust’s land area has increased through purchases of several adjacent blocks, and with the backing of Jobs for Nature to further develop the IT and employ staff, their conservation work has expanded significantly.

They’re responsible for trapping a parcel of DOC-managed land and are part of work to develop a broader biodiversity corridor between their Lake Rotokare, about 40kms away.

Daryl says it’s the data-driven approach to conservation which is gaining the trust momentum and recognition. “I’ve read so many scientific papers on bats and possum control. We have taken that information and applied it, and the things we’ve learned about what has worked for us we can turn it into a narrative and a picture and share it with other people.”

For more on Jobs for Nature, click here.

3 responses to Wifi in the wilderness


    You wrote a nice blog on this topic, it was helpful and intriguing. Keep it up. I wrote a similar blog on this topic. Delta Wifi is a service provided by Delta Airlines that provides their passengers with the convenience of using their smartphones while on board. Delta wifi allows you to connect to the company’s wireless internet services for free use. Pls, do well to visit my blog for more details and enlightenment.


    they deserve more attention for their hard work and also the success of the system they put in place to protect conservation areas.


    cool effort! http://www.enviromate.co.nz

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