Conservation, history and tangata whenua at Pūkaha
Explore the forest, meet native birds, and learn more about tangata whenua and our connection to the land at Wairarapa's unique conservation centre
To step through the door into the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre is to be greeted with the call of native birds, explore walkways that wind through the forest, and hear from passionate guides about the wildlife, history and conservation work of the area.
The centre is a sanctuary for native wildlife, with the park part of a larger 942 hectare forest. Wild kōkako and kākā swoop through the surrounding bush while endangered birds find their home in aviaries, where they are bred to be released back into their natural habitat.
Offering tours and self-guided experiences, there are many ways to enjoy Pūkaha. One truly special experience is the Te Hīkoi o Pūkaha tour, guided by the local iwi Rangitāne. Over 1.5-2 hours, you’ll hear an abundance of stories and information about the tangata whenua (people of the land); whakapapa (genealogy); the flora, fauna and local creatures; and get an insight into our connection to the land.
You’ll learn about Elwyn Welch and the beginnings of the conservation at Pūkaha, meet and learn more about specific birds and plants - including the kererū, kākā, kōkako, whio, wētā, rimu and rata - and hear Māori myths and legends. As you walk beneath the rimu and manuka trees, your guide will keep you entertained with tales of Māui and his troublemaking ways, how the kiwi came to be flightless and how the taiaha is a deadly weapon for combat, all the while sharing a humorous and passionate perspective of this special area.
After a while you'll start to see the trees and birds from the viewpoint of your Rangitāne guide, and to feel the mauri (life force) of the forest. With easy paths, daily feeding sessions and many different attractions as well as an onsite cafe, the tour or a visit to the centre is ideal for people of all ages, including tamariki (children) and whānau (families).
Pūkaha is such a special place, you can really rongo te mauri (feel life’s essence). The ngahere provides a tranquil environment for vital conservation work, including breeding and raising of kiwi.
Sarah Watkins, Pūkaha
Underpinning the entire reserve is ongoing conservation work. From 1952 when Elwyn Welch started the first captive breeding programme, until today when the centre is engaged in a number of projects, Pūkaha maintains a strong focus on native bird programmes.
Working alongside the local iwi and Department of Conservation, Pūkaha is committed to reestablishing populations throughout the country. As such, the team have a ‘keep only what’s necessary’ practice, and breed naturally resilient birds that can defend themselves from predators when they are released back into the wild. Those that remain at the centre become advocacy birds, speaking for their kind and helping to educate visitors.
Pūkaha has successfully reintroduced the North Island Kākā and North Island Brown Kiwi into their unfenced forest reserve, formerly part of the original 90 Mile Bush. In addition, the team is working on both their own initiatives and collaborating with other kiwi reserves to hatch and raise kiwi eggs to be returned to their natural home. Perhaps one of the biggest conservation successes is the kōkako programme, one of Pūkaha’s largest, with now more than 40 pairs in the wild.
A visit to the centre promises the opportunity to meet the birds and critters, learn more about conservation and have a first-hand experience of New Zealand nature and culture.
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