Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari - a mainland ecological island and the world's largest pest-proof fenced project - is an outstanding example of how human intervention can work to reverse the decline of fauna and flora.
The large-scale restoration project has seen 3400 hectares of a forested volcanic peak isolated by pest proof fencing, total removal of mammalian pests, and restoration of a healthy diversity of endangered flora and fauna to the mountain's forest.
Maungatautari, an ancient volcanic outcrop that sits above the southern end of Lake Karapiro in the Waikato region of the North Island, is surrounded by pastoral farmland, and bordered on two sides by the Waikato River.
The restoration plan started with the construction of 47km of 2m-high pest-exclusion fence that was completed in August 2006.
Once the fence was in place, the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust began poison drops to eliminate pests. Predators such as rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, deer, pigs, possums and rabbits were removed by a combination of poison, traps and hunting. Mice were the final pest eradicated from the enclosures.
The forest comprises signifcant areas of old growth forest, including about a hundred New Zealand silver beech trees, thought to be relics from the last Ice Age. In patches under the trees and in season, lucky visitors might spot the brilliant blue tones of the curious New Zealand mushroom Entoloma hochstetteri that appears on the NZ$50 bill.
Kiwi were among the first new inhabitants to be brought into the newly predator-free zone.
The birds were hatched at the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Incubation unit in Rotorua, and the Otorohanga Kiwi House. Then, in December 2007, for the first time in over a century, a kiwi chick was hatched on Maungatautari.
The kiwi population is breeding better than anticipated and there are strong hopes that this will soon become a self-sustaining population.
Since the sanctuary opened, rare and endangered species of birds, reptiles and insects have been introduced to the maunga (mountain), including takahe, hihi / stitchbird, tieke / saddlesback, mahoenui giant weta, tuatara and kiwi. Nationally endangered hihi are now one of the most commonly heard birds in the sanctuary.
The critically endangered takahe is a flightless swamp bird that was once believed to be extinct. Today there are only 250 specimens known to be alive.Guided walks into the wetland area are the best way to spot takahe at Maungatautari.
There are two colonies of endangered Hochstetter's frogs, and is believed to be the last mainland stronghold for the giant lizard, Duvaucel's gecko.
Visiting Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari
The Nikau Track in the sanctuary’s Southern Enclosure showcases prime examples of the various plant species. It opened in May 2008, and is one of several public walkways.
The ‘showcase site’ for the mountain is the Southern Enclosure located at 99 Tari Rd, Pukeatua, where there is a Visitor Centre offering refreshments, information and souvenirs. From the Southern Enclosure, visitors can choose:
a self-guided walk along a variety of bush tracks to a clearing and viewing tower
a full-day walk over the mountain from either north or south
guided tours – these include Southern Enclosure, Tautari Wetland, Highlights or Night tours.
There is a trial programme underway for Dawn Chorus Tours.
To protect this treasured natural heritage, the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust requests that visitors remain on the tracks. No pets, including dogs, are allowed in the reserve.
By the way – The Fence:
8,500 three-metre posts
240km of high tensile wire
an electronic surveillance system operates 24 hours per day to detect fence breeches
250-plus volunteer hours per month (maintaining the fence, monitoring pests) is equivalent to 37 full-time staff.