At 3400ha, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is the largest pest-proof enclosure in the world. It’s also a unique visitor experience and New Zealand’s most ambitious conservation project, providing a haven for many native endangered species.
Since the beginning, the community-led project has received strong input from local farmers, such as David Wallace, with 90ha of land given up to the project to build the 47km pest- proof fence.
Local Waikato dairy farmers Tao Tauroa and Tony Wilding are co-chairs of the Maungatautari Trust board.
With a dairy farm bordering Maungatautari and as a member of the local iwi Ngatai Koroki-Kahukura, Tao was made a trustee when it formed in 2002, joining iwi representatives, farmers and community members.
Tao and his wife Carol own 100ha on the mountain’s southern side, where their son Laurie and wife Ari manage the farm, milking 290 cows. His motivation to get involved with Maungatautari was a combination of cultural, farming and community interests, with the ultimate vision to “protect the mountain forever”.
“We decided early to include our farm’s wetland area within the project to help with the complete restoration of the mountain,” says Tao.
The wetland area has been transformed into a sanctuary for some of New Zealand’s most endangered species, housing a pair of breeding takahé and a tuatarium, where visitors may catch a glimpse of one of 20 tuatara basking peacefully in their specially- designed habitat.
Tony and his wife Sally Wilding started volunteering at Maungatautari in 2005 and Tony became a trustee in 2009. After employing a sharemilker on their 100ha Okoroire farm,
milking 300 cows, the Wildings had the chance to give back to the community. Tony and Sally contributed to monitoring fence lines, maintenance, planting and weeding.
“We feel like we are playing a small part in creating a legacy for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” says Tony. “There’s a sense of pride that you’ve been part of that starting position and it’s something your grandchildren will remember you by.”
Tao says being actively involved in the project and seeing the transformation is an immense reward in itself. “It’s an iconic project that’s really important to our community and the whole country, as well as on an international scale,” says Tao.
Unique visitor experience
The community has benefited with jobs and endless opportunities for research, innovation and tourism, as well as the unique visitor experience and increased biodiversity the restored mountain provides.
The trust and volunteers have developed walks for visitors to experience a slice of New Zealand as it existed hundreds of years ago, with 50 kiwi thriving on the mountain after successfully being bred in the two enclosures.
Visitors enjoying the 'Secrets of the Tuatara Wetland' guided tour.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the Southern Enclosure on the ancient forest tour, a night tour, or visit the tuatara and takahē on the Secrets of the Tautari Wetland Tour.Sanctuary Mountain is currently ranked at number 10 of 849 ‘things to do in the North Island’ on the world-wide consumer website Trip Advisor.
The risk of TB (tuberculosis) to surrounding farms has greatly decreased thanks to the eradication of pests from the mountain.
“It’s become a positive, rather than a liability, to have the bush on your farm boundary,” says Tony, who knows of a dairy farmer who purchased land for this reason, after farming in an area where TB was a major problem.
Tony says the scale of the project is huge and there is a great effort put in by 400 active volunteers. “The community involvement, passion and drive brings a special quality to the project,” he says.
Last year, Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust won the supreme award at the Trustpower Waipa Community Awards for outstanding contribution to the Waipa community.
If you would like to register as a volunteer, visit sanctuarymountain.co.nz/volunteer.