But the project hasn’t been all smooth sailing. As well as having to put its planned $5 million-plus visitor centre on hold, the sanctuary had encountered an unforeseen problem – once news of the avian safe haven got out to the passerine community, thousands and thousands of starlings, sparrows and finches were swooping into the sanctuary at dusk to sleep overnight.
They leave behind mountains of guano, which, over time, would change the chemistry of the peat lake.
Tony said deterrent measures such bangers and laser lights were being trialled.
Releases of kiwi and takahe are on the sanctuary’s wish list but pateke (brown teal) will be the first species to be introduced. Tony said the visitor centre project would be replaced with a more modest and modular alternative – beginning with a three-bedroom house for volunteers and school groups to stay in. With no electricity on the site, the house will have solar panels, and a composting toilet.
Following a hearty buffet lunch at the Five Stags restaurant in Pirongia, everyone boarded the bus for the nearby Alexandra Redoubt. This fortification was constructed by the constabulary after the land wars in case Maori tried to take back their confiscated land.
During the tour, Tony pointed out many other historical landmarks, including pa and battle sites, and natural features such as the volcanoes and kahikatea stands dotting the landscape.