Mt Taranaki, Egmont National Park
Taranaki means ‘shining peak’, recalling the legend of a stoush between the volcanoes of the central North Island for the love of Pihanga. Tongariro won, and Taranaki fled far to the west where he conceals himself in cloud or broadcasts his shining splendour back to his long-lost love.
The mounga is viewed as an ancestor, and is to be given the legal status of a person as part of a 2017 agreement between the Crown and eight Taranaki iwi. There is one important difference with other geographic features given the same status: the entity has gender—as in the legend, the mountain is a ‘he’.
Kamahi Loop Track, Egmont National Park
Behold the 'goblin forest'
Moss-encrusted kamahi trees dominate the lush eastern flanks of Taranaki where rainfall totals more than two metres a year. This abundance of water—the result of warm, moist air from the Tasman striking the mounga—feeds more the 50 rivers and streams that radiate out from the peak in a huge ring plain of avalanche, lahar and tephra deposits.
There is active predator control inside the park and an aim to bring possums, rodents, hares and mustelids down to low densities, protecting birdlife, invertebrates and the forest itself.
Waiongana Stream, Egmont National Park
Whio were functionally extinct in Taranaki until an extensive network of stoat traps enabled the introduction of ten blue ducks in 2003. With continuous monitoring of traps and birds, the number has climbed to more than 60—a pair of whio on every one-kilometre stretch of the wagon wheel of rivers that radiate from the mounga.
Today, DOC rangers Erin Drummond and Joe Carson (behind you) check in on a lone male duck on a fast section of the Waiongana Stream.
Waiweranui Stream, Egmont National Park
Tongues of dense bush reach out from the disc of forest that cloaks the perimeter of the national park—the country’s second, established in 1890. Like monuments to a bygone ecology, relic specimens of huge rata claw at the sky. Beyond the green perimeter, the forest has fallen to axe and fire to make way for one of New Zealand’s great dairy regions.
Geological records suggest there have been major eruptions on the stratovolcano every 500 years for the past 135,000 years. Many included massive pyroclastic flows of lava and fast-moving lahar flows which formed the ridges and ring-plain of the mounga.
Ngatoro Track, Egmont National Park
There are no less than 1400 traps forming a lethal net around the mounga—traps that must be checked and re-baited every month. Some use self-resetting CO2 cylinders, while others—such as this trusty DOC-200—need a screwdriver, a fake egg and a nugget of rabbit meat.
DOC ranger Michael “Blanksy” Blanks has the routine down to such an art that we had to request he went through the motions at half-speed so that viewers could see his movements!
Waiwhakaiho tributary, Taranaki
Fishing for conservation
On an unnamed tributary, Fish & Game field officer Allen Stancliff and ecologist Bart Jansma survey a stream with an electrofishing rig. The pulse of the current stuns the fish momentarily, allowing Allen to scoop them up with a sieve.
It’s a reliable method for monitoring fish life in the tributary, abundance data that will contribute to scientists’ understanding of the health of the waterway and the welfare of the fragile ecology within it. They find a juvenile trout, and a handful of native kōaro which migrated upstream as whitebait.
Waiwhakaiho River, New Plymouth
The Waiwhakaiho runs to sea at New Plymouth—the end of a short 25-kilometre flow across Taranaki’s ring plain from the top of the mounga. It’s the first day of the whitebait season, and Eddie Smith has brought out his whitebait trap for a shakedown with his grandson Elijah Whitmore.
The stoney bottom is unique to Taranaki’s steep river systems, as is the whitebaiters’ shuffle to scatter their quarry upstream and into the trap. The pair will go home empty-handed this time, but there’s another three and half months to try their luck again.
Rotokare Sanctuary, Taranaki
A bird in the hand
Ash Muralidhar and volunteer Jenny Kerrisk hand-feed meal worms to North Island robins (toutouwai) at Rotokare, 35 kilometres south-east of the mounga. The sanctuary, which once relied on birds being introduced, is so successful that it has begun exporting birds to other conservation projects around the North Island. ‘Training’ the robins in this way makes them easier to capture for translocation, perhaps even to Mt Egmont National Park.
Rotokare Sanctuary, Taranaki
Tending the flock
Jenny Kerrisk has been volunteering at Rotokare 3 days a week for 10 years. Among other tasks, she keeps the sugar-water topped up in the feeding stations—supplementary food for hihi, or stitchbirds.
Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust was formed in 2004 with a goal to raise $30,000 for possum eradication. They received $3 million instead, which funded an eight-kilometre predator proof fence and an education centre. Today the 230-hectare reserve offers an insight into the effect of predator control on the 34,000-hectare national park surrounding the mounga.
Taking the bar
Mark “Frosty” Frost lines up the mouth of the Patea River and prepares to ‘take the bar’. Like all west coast bars, it can be a hazardous crossing, with the outgoing flow creating standing waves that peak where they meet incoming Tasman swells.
And like many New Zealand rivers that run through intensively farmed land, the water is charged with the sediment, nutrients from fertilisers and effluent from stock. This payload increases turbidity in the water, reduces oxygen and supercharges the development of algal blooms in the shallow Taranaki Bight.
Project Reef, Taranaki Bight
Science on the reef
Eleven kilometres off the coast of Patea, a citizen science enterprise called Project Reef Life is working to document a coastal reef habitat. Work continues even during winter months when rivers run heavy with sediment, reducing visibility on the reef to just a couple of metres.
Bruce Boyd and Joshua Richardson fix a hydrophone to a mooring block to monitor reef sounds that will build a picture of both the reef ecosystem and passing traffic, such as whales. Fish are relatively abundant, as are harmless carpet sharks.
Project Reef, Taranaki Bight
Project Reef juts out from the seafloor like a shipwreck. Seaweed and sponges cling to the rock, becoming habitat for crustaceans and invertebrate communities, and in turn, small reef fish and hoards of blue cod.
Out of respect for the efforts of the Project Reef Life team, many local fishers avoid targeting the reef, effectively creating a locally managed marine area that is built on trust rather than legislation.