Benefits to Great Barrier if Kaikoura a Wildlife Refuge

3rd Nov 2003
by Tony Bouzaid

Greg McKeown’s article on Kaikoura Island encapsulated the many and varied benefits of the island’s purchase by the Native Forest Restoration Trust. It is also noteworthy that there would be advantages for the adjacent Great Barrier Island.

Although on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier is a part of Auckland City’s territorial area, geographically a large part, over 2 1/2 times the area of isthmus Auckland.

From a Great Barrier perspective, Kaikoura’s development as a wildlife refuge and Anakiwa of the north – as part of the national tribute to Sir Peter Blake – would have several benefits.

The reintroduction of a ferry service to Port FitzRoy, however sporadic, would invigorate north Barrier. A reservoir of pest eradication skills has been developed here as a result of private initiatives at Little Windy Hill, Benthorn Farm and Glenfern Sanctuary, where rats, cats and pigs are kept to low levels.

The advent of Kaikoura as another wildlife reserve would be a shot in the arm for the local vision of a rat- and cat-free Great Barrier. And without possums and mustelids on Great Barrier, the eradication of pests on Kaikoura would be a simple matter.

Then the introduction of endangered species would have an overflow effect, spreading the birds to the adjacent landmass, particularly the Kotuku and Glenfern sanctuaries just across the northern entrance to the harbour.

Great Barrier is already the wilderness destination for Auckland City and the region. It will become more so with the Department of Conservation decision to build more back-country huts and upgrade and extend the already extensive track system.

Port FitzRoy is one of the best natural deep-water harbours in New Zealand. Landlocked but for two narrow entrances, it is a haven in all weather.  The harbour was recognised as a strategic asset during World War II. It was seen as the logical stopping-off point for a Japanese attack on Auckland, 90km away, and the approaches were mined and the harbour fortified. The underground bunkers in Bradshaw Cove on the island’s northern shore, which were the control centre for the Port Abercrombie minefield, could be restored as an added attraction for visitors.

The island has its own 600m airfield, oriented southwest-northeast and capable of receiving the Britten Norman Islander aircraft operated by Great Barrier Airlines. A gravel road has been built across the island linking Bradshaw Cove, the airfield and the wharf in Gardeners Bay to the south.

With no point in the harbour more than 600m from the shore, water-based activities for an Outward Bound experience can be conducted in any weather. This is also a great opportunity to combine environmental education. Already the Windermere campus of the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic comes to the Barrier as a part of its environmental management diploma. There is basic accommodation on the island, as well as an excellent jetty and floating pontoon, so this type of operation could be up and running in little time.

Already, Port FitzRoy is a regular port of call for the Spirit of New Zealand, with a mandatory tramp to the top of Mt Hobson and back. Like Tiritiri Matangi, Kaikoura was 90 per cent covered in grass in 1940. Unlike Tiritiri, it has regenerated naturally, so that now it is 95 per cent native bush. While most of the vegetation is kanuka and manuka, this provides an excellent nursery for planting climax species. In the valleys and upper reaches of Stony Bay is a variety of mature native trees, including kohekohe, puriri, kowhai, pohutukawa and taraire.

Most of the Port FitzRoy coastline is under Department of Conservation administration, with native bush running down to the sea. As Kaikoura makes up most of the western side of this pristine harbour, it would be anathema to see it become another coastal development.

Kaikoura has it all: a refuge for endangered wildlife, an island ready for reforestation in native trees, an all-weather sheltered harbour, and the wilderness of Great Barrier Island at its doorstep.

What better place for young New Zealanders to gain an outdoor experience and walk in the shoes of Sir Peter Blake?