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Fancy enjoying a wilderness wildlife experience 500 metres from your 5-star accommodation? Want to see marine mammals up close whilst standing on dry land sipping a coffee? Then Mount Maunganui is the winter destination for you!

Okay, maybe not quite wilderness, but the Bay of Plenty’s renowned summer party town is fast becoming a winter wildlife hotspot due to the recovery of fur seal populations in the area.

A fur seal pup relaxing at Mount Maunganui. Credit: Joel Ford, Bay of Plenty Times.

A fur seal pup relaxing at Mount Maunganui
Credit: Joel Ford, Bay of Plenty Times.

Visiting fur seals are expected to make a major ‘splash’ in coastal communities along the Bay of Plenty this winter, including in New Zealand’s fifth largest city, Tauranga, and further up the coast in Whakatane. Together with resident little blue penguins, New Zealand fur seals should be coming ashore to rest, having travelled from as far south as Dunedin.

Last year we witnessed spectacular shenanigans like this seal caught climbing onto paddle boats; an early morning visit to the Tauranga waterfront; neighbourly seals tapping on suburban patio windows; and of course the seal that went global after curling up on someone’s couch for the night.

Seals don’t always get good press; and it’s true that they smell, bite and carry diseases—so it’s important to keep your distance.

Some communities are also worried that seals will compete with us for seafood, although evidence suggests they feed mainly on anchovy and lantern fish, which aren’t so popular with humans.

Close up photo of a NZ fur seal face.

New Zealand fur seal up close and personal

On the plus side, seals are a sign of a healthy environment. Historically, they lived all around New Zealand, so it stands to reason that if we continue to look after our place they will return to more of our holiday spots in the future. Next stop, Takapuna Beach?

Visit the DOC website find out more about fur seals and conservation.

Hunters and DOC Rangers at Motutapere Hut.

Hunters and DOC Rangers at Motutapere Hut

By Pete Huggins

Backcountry hut maintenance is being done by local hunting clubs in the Tauranga area through an agreement with DOC. This is great because it means we can do more, using skills that come from outside the Department.

About seven years ago we were planning on removing some of the old Forest Service goat cullers’ huts from the southern Kaimai ranges between Tauranga and Katikati. There are several of these basic huts along the North South Track. No longer in use by DOC staff, these huts were in bad shape and the plan was to simply remove them.

One of the local Deerstalkers’ Associations really wanted the huts to stay. So DOC embarked on a relationship that has culminated in several hut upgrades and a community partnership to maintain access to the backcountry Kaimai forests. Deerstalkers love these huts and want to protect them.

Motutapere Hut makeover

At the beginning of March this year a working bee was held to make Motutapere Hut weather-tight and improve the facilities for hunters. Members of Thames Valley and Bay of Plenty Deerstalkers Associations worked alongside DOC rangers for three days, removing the old iron cladding and replacing it with treated plywood boards, plus a new roof, porch and chimney. Merlin Rohan (17) and Jordan Ogilvie (18) joined Matt Gyde and Kody Williams from DOC to get the work done.

Montage showing the hut and people working.

Iron cladding was removed, a new porch was built and new cladding fixed

What the boys said

Merlin is from Thames and has worked with DOC before, laying traps in the Kauaeranga Valley. His father is a carpenter so Merlin brings his skills and experience to the job. He told me his favourite part of the trip was the good kai provided by Jordan, who cooked for the lads on the trip.

Jordan took leave from his engineering job to help with the working bee and is passionate about backcountry hunting. He told me it makes sense because access to the bush is free, in a world where most things are getting dearer. He said that the feeling of walking all day and finding the hut at the end is a great, great, feeling. He also said that everyone needs to pitch in.  Jordan’s worst moment on the trip was waiting for the chopper to arrive, but I think he was pretty stoked when it did arrive to ferry him up to the hut!

View of the inside of Motutapere Hut

The hut is now cosier and has an extra bunk space

Job well done

This is the fourth and final local hut maintenance job in recent times, all of which have been joint operations between DOC and local hunters. Just last year the Kauritatahi Hut (with the finest view from any hut in the district) got a makeover including a new deck, roof and cladding. In addition to helping with refurbishment of the hut, hunters are now helping to maintain the track to and from the hut, and are doing regular hut inspections. Kauritatahi Hut is now getting much more use from trampers, who are taking overnight trips just to sit on the deck and enjoy the view. The hut book was full of entries showing that the hut gets good use despite its ageing character. From now on both hunters and trampers will find these huts much more comfortable.

Do you have a favourite DOC hut? What do you like about it?

Steel ladder on the way to Motutapere Hut.

The area around the hut is steep with amazing views of Tauranga Harbour and the Waikato, this steel ladder at the summit is quite a thrill!

Thames Valley Deerstalkers are big on community involvement and DOC is better off for working alongside them on this project. Their President Maureen Coleman told me she has nothing but praise for the way DOC staff have responded to them, saying we are fantastic to work with. She reckons the project has built bridges between hunters and DOC, overcoming some of the “communication problems” in the past.

Are you a hunter? What do you think about DOC huts?

Postscript: Trivia about the hut

Built as a goat culling hut in the 1970s, Motutapere Hut has been moved several times during its lifetime. It was sited at Whakamarama and then on the Te Tuhi track to assist with eradication of goats, before finishing at Sentinel Rock which was a hotspot for goats in the mid 1980s. In those days the NZ Forest Service had a full time team of goat cullers for the Kaimai Ranges. How times have changed!

The hut has four bunk spaces and a rainwater tank. It also has mobile phone reception!