Project Tongariro proves that one event can change the direction of many lives and have significant impact generations away from its genesis.
We wanted to create a living legacy to the four people, working in Tongariro National Park who tragically died in a 1984 helicopter crash. Modelled on Amercian National Park Associations, our first members were friends of staff and already strong supporters of the National Park. Our early efforts focussed on assisting run a Summer Programme taking visitors on field trips to showcase the Park’s special values. The Tongariro Natural History Society (now Project Tongariro; PT) also commissioned and published books on the natural values of Tongariro National Park (TNP), and the funds were to assist park managers (the Department of Conservation) with its work. Having a memorial fund ensured long-term viability and enabled PT to offer students with a small research grant fund.
PT grew and over the next decade the organisation, it’s members and volunteers began to have a bigger impact on conservation work, undertaking projects such as the much-needed restoration and interpretation of the Historic Waihohonu Hut and the Alpine Garden at Whakapapa. An employed project coordinator meant PT could increased our positive impact and led to more work assistance to DOC and being able to employ interns over the summer university holidays. In 2008 PT took on funding responsibility for the restoration of the Hapuawhenua Viaduct along with interpretation of the site including the Ohakune Coach Road, both significant local landmarks and popular visitor destinations today.
The sheer scale of the biodiversity challenge faced by DOC led PT to accept the challenge of taking prime responsibility for the ongoing restoration of Rotopounamu – Pihanga an important podocarp forest in TNP. For many years the effort was focussed around Lake Rotopounamu assisting DOC with possum bait bagging and surveys/monitoring before the trapping network was extended to cover Mt Pihanga and then a shared MOU with DOC and TB Free to enable a three-year cycle of aerial poison control necessary to support the trapping. Members and the public have given annual funding through the Adopt a Hectare programme along with funding grants from the Pharazyn Trust, DOC and others. The impact is significant and the project’s aim of reintroducing endangered species, increasingly nearer.
When the value of wetlands together with their dramatic loss was promoted; PT took its mandate outside the boundary of the TNP to work at the Te Matapuna Wetlands adjacent to Lake Taupo in projects that required forming partnerships with DOC and iwi. Thanks to the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust (WCEET) sustainable funding was achieved together with additional funding from DOC and Waikato Regional Council. The impact of this work is obvious with and the wetlands look completely different following successful willow control and restoration planting. Willow control has required a great deal of trial and error to get the best result.
These projects highlighted the benefit of PT establishing a strong supporter base in addition to its members. People want to have a positive impact on the environment and support conservation to make a difference.
When the Wairakei Golf Sanctuary was established near Taupo PT was offered the opportunity to benefit from its charity golf competition and those funds created the break needed to extend the wildlife benefits of the sanctuary and initiate the Greening Taupo project. We realised we could make significant conservation gains by working and involving the wider community including Councils, DOC, businesses and the community. Our role has been to use our Trust structure and experience to support the work with funding applications, financial management and administration support including staffing. The success of this model has led to the establishment of Kids Greening Taupo and Predator Free Taupo. By adopting this role of support it has been possible to achieve a great deal more than reliance on our own members; the impact is extraordinary.
Having a strong administration base is essential to enable this role and we are grateful to funders like Bay Trust and Len Reynolds who recognise the benefits of this.
We keep our members and supporters engaged through field trips to interesting sites inside TNP and elsewhere, together with newsletters, an annual magazine and participation in a number of public events where members enjoy helping with marshalling and BBQ duty that helps both raise funds and our profile.
Some of the other varied achievements by Project Tongariro and its members over the years are:
Completed the re-vegetation of the Lord of the Rings film sites on Mt Ruapehu
Blue Duck (Whio) Survey over 65 rivers
Completed a 3 year weed project (broom-pulling) at the site of old Whanganui Bridge SH47
Ongoing flora monitoring and propagation
Rotopounamu/Mt Pihanga forest Restoration Project (since 2003)
Published books about various aspects of the park including history, geology and botany, plus historical reprints
Continues to play a key role in the annual summer nature programme of walks and talks in Tongariro National Park
Coordination of all conservation volunteers in the national park
Organises an annual programme of conservation activities for Society members and other volunteers in conjunction with DOC including walks and activities including visits to other areas such as White Island, Kapiti etc
In the 17/18 financial year Project Tongariro volunteers contribute 22620 volunteer days
Inspiring and supporting the Predator Free Taupo project
Has distributed a Project Tongariro Memorial Award of $2000 (annually since 1992) to one or two students undertaking a significant research project relating to Tongariro National Park
Held lectures (National Library in Wellington and Whakapapa Visitor Centre) involving climate scientist Martin Manning, DoC scientist Harry Keys, and GNS volcanologist Gill Jolly, 2008
Produced an educational resource for schools based on the 1995-96 eruptions (eruption to dam burst), 2008
Established GPS locations for dozens of historic sites in and around Tongariro National Park
Restored the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct near Ohakune, 2006–2009 in partnership with DOC, (opened Feb 2009). Worked with with local organisation Ohakune 2000 completing the Old Coach Road—a unique cycle/walking trail from Ohakune to Horopito.
William Salt historic 1920s photo exhibition at Taupo Museum, 2009
Ongoing restoration of the Waimarino wetland (a major willow eradication and native tree planting project near Motuoapa, Lake Taupo) in partnership with DOC and iwi, (since 2004)