Staglands reserve founders 'just want to wind down'

23:24, Aug 26 2012
Children feed an orphaned fallow deer at Staglands.
Staglands founder John Simister and his partner, Sarah Purdy.

Many Wellingtonians of a certain age will remember visiting wildlife reserve Staglands as children.

They might have got up close and personal with a mischievous kea, hand-fed a deer or stroked the soft down of a blue duck. Perhaps they remember getting a bit car sick on the winding drive out to the rural park.

This year marks four decades since English import John Simister started inviting the public into Staglands.

He bought the 45ha of land at Akatarawa Valley in Upper Hutt with the idea of landscaping the basically bare paddocks into a place people could escape the city and interact with animals, and has stayed true to that vision.

“I've always been very passionate about what I wanted to do. When we arrived it was just a few macrocarpa trees and bare paddocks, there were no ponds or streams. We planted thousands of plants and every year we still do,” Mr Simister said.

Today the park is an established attraction with native birds including a walkthrough kea aviary, a deer park where fallow live alongside sheep and goats. Peacocks impress while kids can get up close with friendly animals such as rabbits, turtles, pheasants and silky bantams in the Secret Garden. A cafe overlooks the forest wetlands where swans, mandarin ducks and pukeko live.


Staglands breeds whio blue duck that are now being released on Mt Taranaki by DOC. The wildlife reserve was instrumental in reviving kunekune pigs, and now runs a breeding programme for kaka.

It is busiest at school holidays and weekends, with many visitors now second-generation customers bringing their children to interact with animals they enjoyed in their own formative years.

Mr Simister might have surpassed retirement age but he still works around the clock with partner Sarah Purdy, operating the reserve with the help of several staff.

“The biggest challenges have been keeping an eye on cost, dealing with the unpredictable weather in a high-rainfall area and managing the livestock. Also, dealing with the public in very large number.”

Now Staglands has been operating for 40 years, the pair would like to start slowing down their hectic work schedules but aren't sure yet what the future holds.

The business has been Mr Simister's personal passion and life's work, as well as his home - he and Ms Purdy live within the park's grounds. In the past couple of years they have hired marketing staff, appointed a business coach and focused on improving profitability.

“We don't actually know quite what to do with the place. I just want to carry on pottering about the place for as long as I can, let someone else run it and step aside.

“We work very hard and just want to wind down and enjoy the place.”

Contact Jazial Crossley
Business reporter
Twitter: @msbananapeel

The Dominion Post