Located next door to Hamilton Zoo is Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park and the zoo undertook a large-scale restoration project to recreate an example of the Hamilton Basin’s previously rich ecological diversity.
Covering about 60 hectares on the north-west edge of Hamilton, the land at Waiwhakareke was originally purchased by Hamilton City Council in 1975. Three decades later the task is well underway to restore the area back to its unique ecosystem, with large numbers of volunteers turning out to do their bit for the project each year.
The Heritage Park concept involves the retirement and ecological restoration of the land surrounding Lake Waiwhakareke through restoration planting, pest control and the introduction of pest-proof fencing. Once complete the project will see three forest ecosystems completely reconstructed – a kauri, tanekaha, rewarewa conifer-broadleaved forest; a tawa, rimu broadleaved-podocarp forest; and a kahikatea, pukatea semi swamp forest – and two ecosystems – a peat lake margin including a Restiad bog and swamp wetland; and a peat lake/aquatic ecosystem – restored.
Planting days are an important component of this project, with community involvement helping to achieve the planting of more than 140,000 native plants across 16.5 hectares of the park to date.
Hamilton Zoo plays an important part in these planting days. As well as zoo staff taking an active role in the planting themselves, the zoo’s education team also carry out education programmes as part of the days to engage with local schools and teach Hamilton’s younger generations the basics of planting – a skill that can be transferrable to their homes and positively influence their environmental values and attitudes later in life. Other agencies also involved in research and education delivery as part of the project are University of Waikato, Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) and local school and community groups.
While a number of planting days are held at Waiwhakareke throughout the year, the largest is the annual ‘Big Dig In’ Arbor Day which sees significant numbers of school, corporate and community groups turn out to actively contribute to the restoration project. Arbor Day participants are challenged with planting 30,000 trees on three hectares within three hours, with over 1300 people participating in the 2011 Big Dig In and more than 150 students joining education staff from Hamilton Zoo and the other agencies on a post-planting tour around the lake afterwards. The tour included guest speakers talking about the aquatic species, exotic invasive species and potential future native species and the historical aspects of the area and region, and the importance of restoring ecosystems.
The close proximity of Hamilton Zoo to Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park created a natural connection between the facilities and in future there will be an opportunity to strengthen the link between the two. It is intended that there will be shared facilities between Waiwhakareke and Hamilton Zoo, including an education facility, public toilets, parking, tourist shop, information centre and café, and there are plans for a shared concourse to eventually be established between the sites.
In future Hamilton Zoo will also be involved in the rearing and breeding of native birds, reptiles and insects for release in the park.
Once completed Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park will draw native wildlife back to Hamilton and be a rich resource for everyone to enjoy – supporting recreation, education, conservation and science.