Makarore Cultural Heritage and Biodiversity ~ Completing the Picture

A rewarding and enlightening joint Aspiring Biodiversity Trust and Kāi Tahu Event was held at Makarore during December 2021, sponsored by Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand. The wonderful Kāi Tahu students and professionals joined Aspiring Biodiversity Trust at Makarora Wonderland Lodge for an exciting 3-day residential field course, aligned with Māori heritage world view, te reo Māori, endemic biodiversity and habitat restoration.

The event kicked off with an overview of ABT’s Ridge to River threatened species programmes with an introduction to forest bird calls, geophysiography and retracing the historic wetland vegetation of the locality. Out in the forest the amazing Puke Timoti talked of how his ancestors traditionally read the forest in terms of mahinga kai resources with particular reference to the kererū, forest regeneration, medicinal plants and bush skills.

Puke Timote, Rangi Mātāmua, Komene Cassidy and Kāi Tahu students (left to right)
An example of the Ngāi Tahu cultural mapping GIS database.

Paulette Tamati-Elliffe and Tumai Cassidy shared aspects of the important Ngāi Tahu Cultural  Mapping Project with specific reference to the Makarore and Otanenui Rivers and their historical place names where former ancestors once settled.

Rangi Mātāmua the legendary Māori astronomer, talked about Matariki (the Māori New Year) and his aspiration for the national holiday going forward, encouraging everyone to contribute to conservation activities rather than material gifts at this special time.

Everyone was looking forward to seeing more of Makarore’s true splender and the weather didn’t disapoint.

Jet boat tour on the Makarore and up the Otanenui (Wilkin) River – retracing ancestral footsteps with Tumai Cassidy narrating.

A jet boat field trip with Wilkin River Jets along the Otanenui (Wikin) to Kerin Forks helped facilitate a reconnection to lost ancestral roots for many of the participants. This is one location of former Māori settlement’s along with the head of the Makarore delta and the head of Lake Hawea where mahinga kai (natural resource) was plentiful. Harvested species that are now no longer present included kiwi, weka and kakapo with plentiful tuna (eel). This was back (pre-fire) when the Makarore valley (1860) had been described as: an entangled, impenetrable mess of cabbage trees, flax and fern, growing to a height of 8 feet to 10 feet and the ground a jungle of dried and decayed vegetation.

Tarapiroe (black-fronted tern) adult with fledgling at Wilkin Road, Makarore

Good viewing of breeding endemic braided river birds followed with adult tarapirohe (black-fronted tern’s) busy feeding their chicks (above image) along with dispersing tarāpuka (black-billed gull) and tūturiwhatu (banded dotterel) fledglings.

Setting the net for tuna at Makarore
A sample of tuna taken for traditional preparation during the event

To everyone’s delight we found that longfin tuna are still, definitely present in Makarore following the setting of an eel net at dusk, left out overnight. The following morning found over 60 good sized, healthy tuna! In fact, it’s possible that anymore would not have fitted into the net! What a delight! Most were released back where they were found, with a sample taken for traditional preparation which was later sampled from the BBQ on the last evening. What a treat!

Discussion on the sad reality of constraints to the breeding ecology of tuna (not being able to naturally reach the sea) within the Southern Lakes region was had and how – one day this will hopefully change for this important and iconic taonga. Rangi Mātāmua is keen to return to Makarore to monitor the eel population more closely and look at the current population age structure.

A final site visit towards the source of the Makarore River (which rises on the eastern slopes of Mt Brewster) formally known as “Whare Manu” (House of the bird). Unfortunately, recent survey results with a protected species detector dog (2022) did not find any signs of whio (blue duck), last recorded in 1980’s. However kea, titipounamu (riffleman) and  koekoeā (long-tailed cuckoo) were found to be present.

Kaka watch at dusk! Loving their calls!

The event finished with a fun and interactive quiz led by ABT’s Jackson Green, including pertinent questions from the three days activities and learning. It did get a little competitive but there was a clear winner of the latest bird guide by young ornithologist, Oscar Thomas. Around the same time kaka were about feeding on cherry’s just above the building.  A beautiful and emotional Waiata closed the evening!

It was such an *honour to host Kāi Tahu participants, their presence in Makarore was amazing and really completed the picture for us (on a spiritual level) and in terms of integration of cultural heritage and biodiversity within conservation and the essential importance of embracing Mātauranga Māori. We look forward to building on this collaboration going forward.

One of the Makarore kererū (often seen in flocks during the spring) busy feeding on ripe cherry’s (along with the resident kaka). Historically, the most fruitful bird harvested in the forest by Māori and an indicator of wellbeing and ecosystem health.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to: Kāi Tahu especially Paulette Tamati-Elliffe, Komene Cassidy and special guests Puke Timote and Rangi Mātāmua, Wonderland Makarora Lodge, Wilkin River Jets and Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand for enabling this special event to take place in Makarore, particuarly under Covid 19 circumstances (all participants/ science staff double vaccinated).

 

The First Makarora Field Course – A Success!

The first  Makarora Field Course was held from the 10 – 16 January 2021. This was the successful result of a partnership between Aspiring Biodiversity Trust and Operation Wallacea (Opwall) with support from LINZ, Birds New Zealand, Makarora Wonderland, local landowners and Wilkin River Jets.

The purpose of the field course was to promote the indigenous biodiversity of the Makarora catchment, create a valuable learning opportunity for students interested in careers based around wildlife management and conservation, contribute to good biological recording, whilst encouraging the future caretakers kaitiakitanga of the natural environment.

Students arrive at Makarora Field Course – yey!
Makarora Field Course Base Camp

Students from Wellington, Auckland and the Coromandel were met at Queenstown Airport, then joined a scenic coach trip over the Crown Range via Wanaka and Lake Hawea to the field course base camp at Makarora. Here the students and teachers were met by the ABT Science team and a representative from Operation Wallacea. The event commenced with a welcomming karikia before entering the learning facility for a welcome presentation and briefing. Students were then  shown to their tents before the first group meal was served at the main Makarora Wonderland Lodge.

Forest vegetation plots
Bird banding and mist netting with NZNBBS certified bird bander

The week was divided into a series of applied learning activities focused on biological (fauna and flora) recording survey methods and monitoring with classroom sessions on data analysis, reporting and the use of the R Stats application via an overseas connection with Opwall lecturer’s in the United Kingdom.

Evenings were filled with lectures on geophysiography, protected species detection dog aided surveys (for whio), ABT’s Ridge to River Threatened Species Programme, a forest by night walk and concluded with a session on career’s in conservation and wildlife management with an inspiring and motivational finish for the future from Aspiring Biodiversity Trust patron – Lydia Bradey, recently awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit.

Braided river session including fluvioglacial processes, aquatic inverts and avifauna.

An awesome week of incredible weather and biodiversity concluded with a splendid Wonderland BBQ and a certificate presentation to students on their completion of the field course, plus the awarding of prises (including a NZ bird guide) for various notable achievements over the duration of the weeks activities. A farwell karikia and celebratory cakes completed a most memorable week for all involved.

Protected species survey dog, Hoki.

Thank you  to all funders and supporters who helped enable the first pilot Makarora Field Course. The next Makarora field course dates start from 7-14 January 2022! Get in touch to find out more about the latest itinerary, we look forward to hearing from you 🙂

Lydia Bradey motivational talk following career’s panel.

Commentary from student, staff and parent post 2021 field course:

I would like to thank the team for providing an amazing experience for my son Aditya. He is very grateful to get this wonderful opportunity of working with the best in their fields at such a young age. The communication, management and service has been great fro this trip. Thanks again. Jyoti

Thanks for running such an awesome course here in such a beautiful place. You and your team have provided invaluable insight into the real world – science and ecology. Hope to be back in the future. Dylon

By seeing the banded dotterel chick and other amazing sights, I felt like I was learning in a real meaningful way. Thanks, Fiver

Rachel, we did it! Congratulations on puttng together such an amazing field course you should be very proud of what you have achieved. It has been a real pleasure working with you! Hopefully we can do it again. Jihan

 

 

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