A 26ha conservation paradise at Whenuakite

11 Jan 2022

A 26ha conservation paradise at Whenuakite

 

When Guy Banhidi says that not many people can say they have kiwi wandering around their back lawn at night, that is probably something of an understatement. What he really means is that the likelihood of New Zealand’s notoriously shy iconic bird regularly popping into someone’s backyard would fall somewhere between extremely rare and utterly unique.

But for Guy, 62, and his wife, Angela, bragging rights to having the nocturnal bird often fossicking around in their garden underneath their bedroom window is not something that has happened by chance. It is the result of 20 years of hard work getting rid of pests such as rats, possums and stoats from their 26ha property at Whenuakite, and carrying out extensive replanting of native shrubs and trees.

When he is not busy carrying out his voluntary conservation work, Guy’s day job is running Divecom, a commercial diving business. He does everything from oil rig work off the Taranaki coast to demolitions and underwater construction. “It is either constructing things or blowing them up,” he said. “Anything that is done on a construction site, we do underwater - pouring concrete, cutting steel or welding, whatever the client wants.”

Guy and Angela devoted many hours a week trying to rid their property of pests so as to encourage native species to flourish. And it is a strategy that is bringing considerable success. “Now we have regular sightings on our cameras that we have all over the place of kiwi at night,” Guy said. “We get to see quite unique species that most people would never see around here, and it is only because we have been getting rid of the rats, possums and stoats and other pests that are prevalent in the New Zealand bush.”

Guy and Angela have already seen tomtits, which are found in the central North Island but not normally on the Coromandel, and even native geckos and one weka which is generally a South Island species with scattered populations across the North Island, but not on the Coromandel. “We see wild species probably once or twice a week and we see evidence of kiwi on our block,” Guy said. “We have had them even calling on our lawn outside our bedroom window at night. It is so rewarding to see native species around the block and not many people can say that they have got kiwi living around the house. We get a kick out of that.”

Factor in that their house is in a secluded, elevated position with panoramic views over native bush well away from the road, and Guy and Angela’s property has to be a private conservation paradise. Around a third of the property is given over to native regenerating bush where there are full-sized kauri, kahikatea and tanekaha which the couple love to walk through.

Guy said that he and Angela had been part of Waikato Regional Council’s clean streams project since its inception where they fenced off streams and creeks from stock, though there is currently no stock on their property. The couple also carried out widespread planting of native species to help promote wildlife, with the result that there are now regular sightings of tui, bellbirds, native grey warblers, fantails, moreporks, kaka - a native bush parrot related to the kea - and numerous native pigeons. “We have planted lots of flaxes and kowhai and other native species to promote bird life,” Guy said. “These plants provide flowers for food and also shelter. Wherever we go, we see evidence of New Zealand species, including the rare Hochstetter’s frog. It is all very well getting rid of the pests, but you have to have a reason for wildlife to stay, hence the flaxes and kowhai.” 

Guy added that he and Angela did not use artificial sugar water to feed tui and bellbirds. “If you did this and then went on holiday, they’d just give up the ghost and leave,” he said.

There were also lots of pheasant on the property, which though an introduced species, also benefited from the pest eradication. Guy acknowledged that if he and Angela stopped trapping pests, they would lose all the species that had come back. He said they had now reached a point of equilibrium where continued trapping ensured that native species would flourish.

In the last calendar year, Guy tallied 119 possums killed, almost 200 rats, seven stoats and numerous mice and hedgehogs. “If we stopped trapping, they would just explode and take over,” he said. “So what we have come to realise is if you get pests down to a certain level, the native species do recover, but not to the same degree as preEuropean levels.”

Guy said that he and Angela put in a “massive amount of work” maintaining the traps and looking after the tracks on their property, and most of the plantings and traps were financed by themselves. However, they did get some funding from WRC, but that required filling in application forms and providing detailed reports.

Guy said that around 80 per cent of the work involved in fighting pests was done by about 20 per cent of property owners and there were “a lot more talkers than doers”. He and Angela had tried to join a local conservation group some years ago, but were rejected because they were slightly outside the area covered by the group. “So we just do our own thing and that works out for us,” he said. “There are no tours and we have no volunteers. We are a bit reserved as to who we invite up to the block.” 

 

Pictured: An image of a kiwi captured by one of the cameras on Guy and Angela Banhidi’s property at Whenuakite.