Celebrating three years of Kaimahi for Nature Whakaraupō

This week was the final week of our Kaimahi for Nature Whakaraupō project. Since 2021, our Rāpaki-based field team has headed out in all weather – rain, sun, wind, snow – to plant, weed, trap and care for te taiao. While we’re sad to see such an inspiring project end, the team has left an incredible legacy for Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour.

A win for te taiao

Over the past three years, they’ve planted over 32,000 trees, shrubs and grasses in the valley behind Rāpaki. The plants follow the Ōmaru Stream as it flows from summit to sea. As they grow, their roots will stabilise the hillsides and help prevent contaminants from entering our waterways. Birds, bugs and lizards will return to shelter in the growing ngahere. And the plants will help the local community cope with the changing climate.

The field crew has also set up and maintained traplines in a nearby area of regenerated native forest. It’s been rewarding work, and they’ve caught 2,800 introduced predators. They’ve already noticed the return of native birds like ruru (morepork) as well as an increase in piwakawaka (fantail), kēreru and korimako (bellbird).

As well as planting and trapping, the team have cleared 200 hectares of invasive weeds, and built and maintained fences and tracks.

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata – it’s all about people

Working on the project has been an incredible experience for the field staff. Some, like Hēmi Korako (Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke, Ngāi Tahu) and Matt Tauru (Te Arawa, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Muaūpoko), have been with the project since the beginning.

For Hēmi, working on his ancestral land was an incredible experience.

“When I found this job, I found a real sense of purpose,” he said. “As mana whenua, we’re kaitiaki of this land, and we know how to look after it.” Hēmi believes the budding ngahere (forest) they planted will inspire more people to care for te taiao (the natural world).

“If you see that the land has been disrespected, then you are going to disrespect it as well. If you see it’s beautiful and all full of forest, you want to take care of it more,” he says.

Others joined the team more recently. Caleb McGuigan (Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Irakehu) counts himself lucky that he joined the project last June. “I’ve loved every minute of it since,” he said.

He grew up visiting Rāpaki as a child but had become disconnected from the hapū as an adult. For Caleb, working on a conservation project on his ancestral whenua has been life-changing: “Never in my life have I worked a job where I come to work smiling, and I go home smiling.”

“I love looking after the land and getting it ready for future generations. And I love the fact that I can help my whakapapa, and come back and reconnect with the locals that are there now and help the harbour become healthy again. I think it’s quite huge, to be honest” 

Thanks to our partners

Kaimahi for Nature Whakaraupō was a partnership between Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke, Conservation Volunteers New Zealand, and Living Springs. The Department of Conservation funded the project through the Jobs for Nature fund. Mātauranga Māori underpinned the kaupapa, and the project aimed to help restore the harbour’s cultural and environmental ecosystems.

We’re so proud to have been part of such a successful and inspiring project. Thanks to the field crew for their dedication and hard work. We wish them all the best with their next adventure in conservation.