After more than 20 years of dreaming, planning and pure hard work the Orokonui Ecosanctuary will be officially opened this Friday. The 307 hectare block of land is situated near Waitati in the Blueskin Bay catchment, just a short drive from Dunedin. The opening marks the completion of the Visitor and Education Centre – a fine demonstration of eco-building. Much of the timber was milled from exotic pines that once resided within the sanctuary, the building is positioned to capture and retain sun and warmth, shipping containers have been recycled into administration areas, and waste water is treated onsite.
I was lucky enough to get a guided tour around the sanctuary a couple of weeks ago, and was incredibly impressed. There are few examples of remnant forest on the East Coast of the South Island, but here is one of them – towering broadleaves, podocarps and kanuka – these forest types are within close proximity of each other. A 2 million dollar, 10 km long pest exclusion fence was completed in 2007, and an ongoing eradication program since then has seen exotic mammals including possums, rats and stoats reduced to undetectable levels. And so enter the stars! Kaka, saddlebacks and jeweled geckos introduced since the completion of the fence have been flourishing, as have resident tomtit, brown creeper and rifleman. The hope is that, in years to come Kiwi, Kakariki and Tuatara will be established within the sanctuary. It should only be a matter of time until Otago has a southern equivalent of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary! I highly recommend going on a tour of this incredible place – the guides are so passionate and knowledgeable, and will no doubt have more to show us as the forest ecosystem recovers in years to come.