35 lend hand in kowhai-planting project

Department of Conservation communications relations manager Susie Geh and biodiversity ranger Ray Malloy enjoy a well-deserved lunch after she and 35 volunteers planted over 120 trees and shrubs at Lake Hayes on Saturday morning. Photo by James Beech.
Department of Conservation communications relations manager Susie Geh and biodiversity ranger Ray Malloy enjoy a well-deserved lunch after she and 35 volunteers planted over 120 trees and shrubs at Lake Hayes on Saturday morning. Photo by James Beech.
An Otago-wide initiative to bring back native kowhai trees has taken root in the Wakatipu, as 35 volunteers mucked in at the Lake Hayes walkway on Saturday morning, planting over 120 trees and shrubs.

Project Gold is the first step in re-establishing hundreds of the tough but colourful native trees in the region.

The species is unique to New Zealand, and is valued by Maori for its medicinal properties. It also attracts nectar-feeding indigenous birds such as tui, bellbird and kaka.

The Department of Conservation (Doc) in Otago launched Project Gold at the Otago Conservation Awards in Cromwell last week.

The inaugural official planting of 50 kowhai trees and 120 shrubs, including coprosma and olearia varieties, doubled as the project launch in the Wakatipu on Saturday.

Doc invited volunteers to bring sturdy footwear, gloves, a spade or a shovel, with the lure of a barbecue afterward, with Doc community relations manager Susie Geh saying she was thrilled with the turnout.

Queenstown tourism operator Kiwi Discovery provided $10,000 of sponsorship a year for the next three years.

Community meetings have been held in Queenstown and Glenorchy. Staff from the Doc Wakatipu area office have assessed the suitability of several public and private sites for kowhai planting.

A further 1500 trees were growing in an Otago Polytechnic nursery, being readied for planting out.

Ms Geh said the positive response to Project Gold was "amazing" and staff were working hard to keep up with the interest it had created.

Residents were being encouraged to "adopt a kowhai site", which they can plant and enjoy for years to come, she said.

"The community will provide the manpower and time and Doc will provide technical support. In the next year, several sites will be cleared and weeded in preparation for planting kowhai and other supporting natives.

"We're also working with our local Enviroschools representative to introduce the project into Queenstown schools and encourage local children to get involved," Ms Geh said.