Saturday, 20 July 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

The history behind the “stone kiwi”

Over the past summer, Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre (COLC), with the help of Damian Percival from Percival Construction and Joe Reece from PlaceMakers Whitianga, has been working hard to give a new lease of life to the big outline of a kiwi situated on the hills above Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach. A report on the restoration progress was published in The Informer of the 17 April.

The project is now finished and everyone who was involved is very pleased with the result.

Working on the kiwi did, however, raise a few questions about its history, so Kim Lawry, the managing director of the COLC, set about trying to find who was responsible for creating it in the first place.

The “stone kiwi,” as named by the original builders, is closely tied to Project Kiwi, a highly effective North Island brown kiwi conservation charity on the Kuaotunu Peninsula. The charity was formerly known as Kuaotunu Kiwi Sanctuary.

Back in 1999, John Haynes, who was chairman of Project Kiwi at the time and Lance Dew, the then operations manager, came up with the idea of the stone kiwi as a way to draw attention to the work of the organisation and at the same time mark the arrival of the new millennium.

John had recently visited England where he noticed the Kilburn White Horse - a large figure cut into the hillside in the North York Moors National Park near Kilburn in North Yorkshire. He thought they could build something similar in Mercury Bay.

Permission was granted to build the kiwi on well-known Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach farmers, Peter and Margaret Simpson’s farm. The hills above Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach was chosen as it was highly visible and it was hoped that any interest the stone kiwi created might make it easier to raise funds for Project Kiwi.

The particular placement of the stone kiwi was chosen because it marked the southern boundary of the area that Project Kiwi covered at the time.

The site is quite steep and Lance began the tough job of working out the scale of the kiwi, marking out the shape and then spraying the outline. It needed to be the right size to be clearly seen from a distance.

To achieve the required size, Lance took a single and then later a double bed sheet and pegged them out on the hill, before travelling back to the Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach settlement to see how well they stood out. Once he was happy with the scale of the kiwi, he began marking the shape out. The idea was to build a wooden frame to hold the rocks that would form the kiwi in place on the steep hillside. Eric Gaskell and his family joined the team that was to do the work.

Around that time was the annual Whitianga Christmas Parade and Eric had his truck as a float in the parade. Those involved in the stone kiwi made an announcement that they needed some kids to do a job up on the hillside and anyone who came along would get a ride up the hill in Eric’s truck and an ice block at the end of the afternoon. They ended up with a truckload of kids carting rocks and Eric’s family whitewashing them as they arrived at the kiwi site.

“I know from the restoration work that we’ve done on the kiwi this summer, that building it would have been a big job,” says Kim. “The stone kiwi is a credit to the drive and ingenuity of those who made it happen some 20 years ago.

“I hope that the outline of the kiwi gets looked after into the future and remains on the hills above Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach as a constant reminder of the hard work that so many people have done over the years, and in so many ways, to make Project Kiwi one the most successful kiwi conservation charities in New Zealand. Hopefully it will inspire future generations to get out there and get involved.”

Pictured: The newly restored “stone kiwi” on the hills above Wharekaho/Simpsons Beach. Photo by Shane Simpson of Skyspy.

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