Mid March saw three lucky students embark on the annual Kiwi and Whio Forever programme. Year 12 students Sian Moffit, Reece MacDonald and Theo Calkin were chosen from a healthy number of applicants to spend an all-expenses-paid week near Ohakune learning about conservation issues. 19 students from around the North Island converged on the Ngati Rangi Marae where they enjoyed outstanding food and hospitality in their communal accommodation.
The programme is a joint venture involving Ngati Rangi, the Department of Conservation and Genesis Energy. Students were put into groups with people from other schools. They spent the first couple of days with Ngati Rangi host Keith Wood, getting to know one another and gaining an understanding of the physical and spiritual connection we have to the environment. In particular, the focus was on waterways conservation. Students were saddened to see that a number of pristine alpine streams are being completely diverted underground for the production of our power.
Following this, the four groups met with DOC staff to find wild Whio (blue duck) which turned out to be a very easy task, with plenty of birds around. Whio number only around 2,500 and iwi have been working with Genesis to restore some vital river habitat to levels where they can support Whio. All three Tauhara students were selected to release captive-bred Whio into the wild, thus getting to play a hands-on role in this success story.
The final couple of days focused on kiwi conservation. Each group set out with DOC staff to locate wild kiwi with kiwi dogs and radio tracking gear, and all got to see what is involved with performing health checks on the birds. Theo’s group hit the jackpot, finding a newly-hatched chick with its dad. Predator control was also a big focus with students’ first building and then setting out stoat traps.
Getting up close and personal with our national icon was a highlight for many but the whole experience was character building for all that took part. Firm friendships were made and minds were opened. Organised debates, team activities and talks to the public about conservation issues were all valuable experiences. Sian, Theo and Reece join 25 past Tauhara recipients of this scholarship which will be heading into its tenth year in 2015.