Reserve a haven for tasty fare
Another day on the River RoadMATT RILKOFF
The River Road
Despite a week of paddling through the heartland of Taranaki, it took us eight days to reach true kiwi country.
On the eighth day of our 12-day trek we reached the Waitara River and by happy coincidence our first day's travel was through the East Taranaki Environmental Trust's kiwi reserve.
This inland island sanctuary started small in 2004 when Bob and Karen Schumacher sat around their map and decided to turn their 192 hectare Purangi property into a safe home for kiwis.
The idea caught on and by 2009 enough landowners had decided to join them that the reserve now covers 13,000ha – or if you want to think of it another way, 26,000 rugby fields.
Whether their neighbour Nick Beckers played rugby or not is immaterial but since buying into the area he has had to play bird guide to a number of people, including reporters.
"That's a North Island tomtit," he said as he drove me and some other visitors to the area into kiwi country.
"I hadn't seen one of those until I bought the property here. Now you see all sorts of endangered birds. I had to go and buy a book to find out what they were."
There was no problem with identification when Bob pointed out fat native koura in a stream running through a haunting stand of native bush dotted with kiwi nests.
"I bet they taste good," said visitor Christine Alexander, who was promptly told off for talking of such things in an area dedicated to conservation.
It wasn't always that way. One of the bends on the river was a traditional stopping point for travelling Maori.
While I knew it as another bloody bend, they had known it as Te Umu Kiwi, which basically means a good place to find, cook and eat kiwi.
No such thing could happen now.
Not only would you struggle to find one (and chicken is much cheaper) but kiwi are the most honoured citizens in this neck of the woods and their protection is a community activity.
Land owners proudly display "Kiwi Zone" signs, dogs left wandering do not wander long and feral cats, well, let's just say no one, including Taranaki Regional Council employees, lays out the welcome mat for them.
But the welcome mat is out for walking visitors at the reserve.
A track, opening soon, will lead people through fertile stands of ponga, towering rimu and creeks full of delicious koura.
"The first day we started working on the track we dug up quite a bit of ground and when we came back the next day there were kiwi signs all over it. They wanted to know what was going on. They were checking it out," said Karen.
If all went according to plan this morning, we would be checking out, with the aim of making it to Tarata by Wednesday night.
Apparently this is the most isolated stretch of river we'll encounter on our trip and more than one person has warned us we'll be lucky to get a story out, lucky to see anyone in the next two days.
We'll just see about that. More than one person also warned us we'd be lucky if we could make it to the Patea dam.
Today: Towards Tarata and through part of the Tuihu forest.
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