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By Shonagh Lindsay

The Rotopiko/Serpentine complex, a headwater of the Waikato River at Ohaupo south of Hamilton, is steadily being developed by the National Wetland Trust as the site of New Zealand’s National Wetland Centre, a showcase for wetland education, training and research. To celebrate World Wetlands Day, the Trust will launch work on the National Wetland Centre on Sunday 3rd February. A blessing by local iwi and brief addresses will be followed by a range of family fun activities that reflect the vision to create a ‘masterpiece’ at this beautiful site.

Collecting insect samples.

The Trust has so far received significant funding to develop a predator-free wildlife sanctuary and restore vegetation in the peat lake/swamp forest complex. Getting the local community involved is integral and last year the lake area became a hive of forensic activity as Te Awamutu Intermediate students went on the hunt for native and introduced fauna, laying a network of insect traps, tracking tunnels, bat detectors and lizard homes to find out what lives in the reserve complex.

The lakes and their margins are managed by the Department of Conservation, while adjacent mature kahikatea swamp forest and former pasture land are recreation reserve areas managed by the Waipa District Council. Ecological values are already high with the lakes’ water quality amongst the best in the region, and the restoration work underway and planned will ensure it remains so. It is one of a very few remaining peat lake systems in the region that has retained many of its unique characteristics and spectacular native aquatic plant communities. The lake margins have well-established reed beds, sedgelands, and an area of the rare, peat-forming, giant cane rush – Sporadanthus ferrugineus.

Kahikatea bordering East Lake,

Long and short-finned eel, common bully and a lake-bound population of smelt are present, along with fourteen species of water birds including Australasian bittern, North Island fernbird, and spotless crake. Hopefully their numbers will grow once pests are gone from East Lake, and if community-led pest control in the wider catchment provides a halo of safe habitat for those that choose to fly over the fence. Brown teal and red-crowned parakeets could be introduced to the pest-free enclosure, which may also become a kiwi creche and house display takahe. Lizards and bats may already be present, and the Trust hopes that further surveys will detect them.

Interpretation will be an essential part of the National Wetland Centre’s experience. Pearson & Associates Architects have been commissioned to design the Centre building, which will serve as a hub for interpreting the big picture – New Zealand’s wetlands in a national and international context – and become a base for educational programmes. Designed to fit into the landscape it will become part of the whole conservation experience as well as serving as an administrative centre for the National Wetlands Trust.

A series of wetland ‘gardens’ that illustrate the range of wetland types found in New Zealand – estuary, red tussock, alpine tarn, geothermal, braided river – will be integrated into a walkway to the building’s location to create a virtual sea to mountain journey. The peat lake itself is the perfect setting to tell the regional wetlands story, and will be integrated into the overall interpretation with walkways, signs and structures to inform and delight.

As the pace of activity cranks up the need for volunteers is growing. The Trust would love to hear from you if you want to be part of this exciting project. Not only will you be contributing to a great cause, but you can meet like-minded people and learn some great skills. You don’t have to be a local either – there’s plenty of scope for anyone to help out with education and interpretation ideas, fauna management advice, marketing and planning.

Join us on the 3rd of February to learn more. Take a walk up our virtual ‘garden path’ showcasing plans for a series of gardens representing New Zealand’s wetland types, and talk to the designers about plans for the visitor building and exhibits. Afterwards, you can join guided walks, take an art or photography class, watch arborists scale giant kahikatea, or join the kids in a range of artistic pursuits.


Shonagh Lindsay is a Trustee and the newsletter editor of the National Wetland Trust.