Preserving the Buster Diggings

The Importance of Protecting a Historic and Heritage Landscape in Central Otago, New Zealand

Buster Diggings is a historic gold mining site located near Naseby in Central Otago, New Zealand. The site was active from 1863 to the early 1900s and reached a population of over 700 people at its peak. The Department of Conservation (DOC) now manages the site as an Actively Conserved Historic Place and it is listed several times in the Conservation Management Strategy (CMS), a statutory legal document. Prescriptive in nature. The site is considered to be remarkably intact and of national significance, particularly for its rarity as a high-altitude, alluvial mining landscape. It is comprised of fine cream coloured auriferous-quartz gravels.

Unfortunately, the site is suffering from human impact, primarily from 4wd vehicles and motorbikes, which are driving up the sluice faces for no other reason other than pushing a vehicle to it’s limits. Thus leaving long-term wheel marks or scarring on the surface of the deposits, causing erosion.

Evidence of high risk driving and riding

Using momentum in a four wheel drive to get up a steep slope can be hazardous due to several reasons. One of the biggest hazards is the loss of control if the vehicle fails to make it to the top. In such a scenario, the momentum of the vehicle puts it in a precarious position that makes it difficult or even impossible to control the descent backwards. This can lead to serious accidents, such as a rollover, especially if the slope is steep and the surface is loose or slippery.

Additionally, over-reliance on momentum can put excessive strain on the vehicle’s drivetrain and suspension, potentially leading to mechanical failures. It’s always important to carefully assess the terrain and plan a safe and controlled ascent (or possible descent when traction becomes compromised).

Acknowledgement of the problem

DOC acknowledged this impact many years ago and erected a fence around the main sluice faces at the head of Clarks Gully in 2009. However, stronger protection measures, such as a stronger fence or the use of cameras to identify vehicle users rego (and forward to the Police), could be considered.

More than once the lock on this gate, will I daresay, have succumbed to a bullet many times.


Education plays a crucial role in the success of any management program.

  • By educating the public, individuals are empowered to make informed decisions and take ownership of their role in achieving the desired outcome.
  • This approach is more effective in the long term as it creates a sense of shared responsibility and fosters a culture of sustainability.
  • Furthermore, educating the public also helps to build trust in the management program and its goals, as individuals are better equipped to understand the reasoning behind specific policies and actions.
  • Ultimately, an educational approach leads to a more engaged and invested community, resulting in greater buy-in and higher rates of success for the management program.
  • DOC (Department of Conservation) Interpretation Boards are an effective tool for public education as they provide information and context to the public about the local environment, conservation efforts, and the cultural and historical significance of an area. The boards can also help foster appreciation and respect for the environment, which can lead to greater support for conservation efforts.

In Conclusion

Buster Diggings is a historically significant and rare site in Central Otago, New Zealand, that is currently suffering from human impact. DOC has a responsibility to protect the site and mitigate the risks posed by 4wd vehicles and motorbikes. Stronger protection measures should be considered to preserve the site for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.


Page 51-57 on pdf: The history of the Place is protected and brought to life at the Ngāi Tahu site of Manuhaea Conservation Area at The Neck and at the Buster Diggings actively conserved historic site.

The historic Buster Diggings has to be a protected and actively managed accessible visitor site.


Heritage assessment by DOC

ODT Feb 2019

Takahē and Lake Orbell, Fiordland National Park

Lake Orbell in the Murchison Mountains has long been a restricted area. It is the home of the Takahē Recovery Program. Run by New Zealand’s Dept. of Conservation.

Sure I have a personal interest in all things New Zealand native birds! But the re-discovery of takahē by Dr G. Orbell in 1948 has a link to my childhood. He must have retired to Oamaru from Invercargill in the 1950’s as he used to live next door to my grandparents.

As a little kid I remember him waving to me from a high up window, in his two story house in Reed Street. He always seemed a friendly sort. And by then was definitely famous. So I knew about the takahē from an early age.

Photo courtesy of a DOC interpretation board Te Anau

The Murchison Mountains is a restricted area in the Fiordland National Park. To get a permit would be difficult, as a member of the public.

I’d known this for years, but of course forbidden fruit always leaves room for hankering. It can manifest a sense of mystery. Then one day I discovered DOC in Te Anau run the occasional day trip.

And this is my story of such a day:

My son on the right, and an old and dear friend on the left get ready to embark on a Real Journeys boat.

The destination across Lake Te Anau takes about 30 mins. to reach. There is a wharf there used for the popular Glow Worm Caves trip.

The trip across reminded us of Dusky, Preservation and Doubtful Sounds to the west across the mountains.

After disembarking we are very soon on our way into some surprisingly rugged country. But the route is quite moderate, as far as such lines go in Fiordland.

The rock on the left is limestone. And as we’re traveling upward parallel to a creek called Tunnel Creek I realised it feeds into the glow worm cave system now below us.

Speleologists can get permission annually to explore 6 + km of caves.

There is predator trap at the bottom of the photo. To the left of the marker.

Taking a breather. The route is relentless. After about two and half hours we branched left off a broad ridge and down a steep descent to said creek.

Red beech is a predominant tree here abouts. And I saw a weka and a tom tit. Occasionally we heard bell birds and south island robins.

After the frustration of not getting a view, suddenly we knew we were close to the real sub alpine environment. So time for a very brief nibble and drink. And refill of drink bottles.

Next we were able to cross the stream dry-shod using some awkward, but thankfully short boulder hops. It took about 30 mins. to get to the nearby hut though. A series of frustrating wind-falls had to be overcome.

And suddenly there we were. The Takahē Heritage hut. And Lake Orbell to be seen on peeking around it’s corner, to the left.

A close up of Lake Orbell. With favoured takahē style habitat to the right.
Looking back at the historic hut
We did not see a takahē though. This was no surprise to me – 16,000 hectares of often boggy and difficult ground would take an age to search. However it’s pretty easy to get up close and personal with them at the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary near Dunedin.

All too soon though – we had to depart to catch the boat back at 5 pm. However not before a welcome brew at the hut.

We had a bonus on the descent.

An older kea followed us down almost all the way. Occasionally on the ground, And when flying – his shadow was constantly zooming over us. Sometimes he’d land on the most wobbly tree branch available, and gyrate about. Perhaps showing off!

This is not the kea though. We had no time to develop a relationship for a modelling session. But this bird is of a similar age.

We made it – bang on 5 pm. To my relief, as I was the slowest.

Looking up Lake Te Anau from the wharf.

For more back ground on the Takahē Recovery Program >>

And on Dr Orbell’s story >>

Unless otherwise above all photos by myself, Donald, or my son Red.

Many thanks for Te Anau Dept. of Conservation and Real Journeys for making this trip possible.

Braided River Bird Monitoring – how it works

Braided rivers are a common in Alaska, Canada, New Zealand’s South Island, and the Himalayas, which all contain young, rapidly eroding mountains. They are a unique environment inhabited by equally unique birds.

They simply cannot contain a river in a straight line. In floods especially they carry sediment, and in places where the flow slows down this settles on the bottom, thus raising it. And the water flows off to the side of least resistance. This will happen constantly during floods.

The technique for gathering bird numbers on these sort of rivers is quite simple: a team of four people spread out, in radio contact with each other, walk downstream counting every bird they see in front of them. On the ground or airborne.

And at that point the simplicity vanishes! Very finely tuned river crossing skills are needed, as well as “an eye” for the line that will give the best results. Plus physical stamina.

The tools of the trade are: a radio each, walking pole to aid crossings, binoculars, sun-cream, sun hat, good boots and gaiters [to stop gravels getting in the socks], GPS each, and a pen/paper/clipboard. Plus lunch, warm clothing, a camera etc. Warm dry socks also help at the end of the day.

A view upstream of the Hunter River that feeds Lake Hawea in Otago, New Zealand
Preparation. In this case to get into the very remote Hunter Valley. In the Wanaka area two other rivers, the Matukituki and Makarora are also done, and they don’t require a helicopter drop in. There is 25 years now of history – each river being monitored every third year.

The three year cycle is sometimes hard to maintain. The work has to be done in the spring when the birds are breeding, and this is when there is a high frequency of floods, with high levels due to snow melt.
After a short but steep climb in the helicopter from Makarora town-ship, on popping over the ridge the large and rugged Mckerrow Range come into full panoramic view [actually named after a close friend’s grandfather who did lots of surveying and exploring.
Dropping the over-night gear off by a hut, before flying further up the valley to begin the survey.
On the left [note the silt in the grass!] where we only go to avoid a complex river crossing; and where we do – the gravel on the right.
One species of many that we’re looking for. The ‎nationally vulnerable banded dotterel / tūturiwhatu, is the most common small plover of New Zealand seashores, estuaries and riverbeds.

This one is feigning a broken wing to lead the surveyor/photographer away from a nest.

After breeding, they either remain at the nesting area or move relatively short distances to nearby estuaries.
Typical nesting surface, and one of the team striding it out. Being very careful to not stand on eggs!
On the wing. A black fronted tern. Not in the Hunter though, but the Tasman River near Mt Cook. The blue colouring of the very cold water is caused by rock ground up by glaciers.

There are about six species that are primarily dependent on the braided river habitat: wrybill, banded dotterel, south island pied oyster-catcher, black-fronted tern, black-billed gull, black stilt) as well as the caspian tern and the pied stilt. The villain of the piece though is the black-back gull, as they predate on the eggs of the others.

Teaming up – linking arms for mutual support. Lots of concentration is required so it’s harder to observe what maybe in the air ahead. However the most experienced person leading the crossing, which is nearly done, has in this instance time to look. River crossing is best done by not looking down, which upsets balance, and with great care – there is no Plan B if people get swept away.
When not to cross at all – just too big and not braided into smaller channels.
The job is going well!
What we don’t want to see, but if we do, weeds are recorded as Way Points on a GPS, so that DOC staff can return later to deal to them. The most often encountered on the above mentioned rivers is this area, is often broom.

We don’t encounter many lupins in the above mentioned rivers. This photo is in the nearby Ahuriri. Lupins, which the birds don’t like, offer cover to predators. Foolishly seeds were spread many decades ago by well meaning people wanting to add some colour to the grey landscape. And the seeds can remain for years until uncovered by a flood as they’re coated with a protective oil.
A sad aspect of some surveys is that we know that after a bank-to-bank spring flood hundreds of these young birds are washed away. These are a few surviving gulls after such an event in the Matukituki a few years back.
Knock off time – a classic old-time hut.
Every hut has one
Evening and time for sleep. Tomorrow morning the survey will resume tidying up the riverbed to the right.
Job over and pickup
The long and sometimes bumpy drive home beside Lake Hawea

Obviously the results of such monitoring give a good guide as to the health of the environments concerned.

However the data as regards where breeding colonies are located, can be used for the most efficient locations for a new trapping lines. There is an attrition of traps though – during floods despite them being anchored by a chain to a long steel stake hammered in, they get washed away. Often the best compromise often considered, is for them to be near a bank that exhibits a history of stability, and place them with a shorter distance apart than the 200 mt standard in the bush, so as to create a fence of sorts.

Freddy the fearless NZ falcon, and an update on the status of native birds in the West Matukituki Valley

There are cautionary things to be learnt from being under a bird – things that can come back to haunt us from childhood:

I was about four years old when hand-in-hand with my mother, like my hand in hers while my other held a flavoured and much savoured ice cream. All was good I recall, until suddenly with a plop, a passing sea gull dropped a deposit on it. I was gutted, but perhaps it was good start to training for life!

Fast forward a few too many decades to when I was recently working 6-7 months a year up the West Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park looking after huts, and also monitoring birds and doing some trapping; all in an ice cream free zone.

It was the beginning of a relationship of sorts with four NZ falcon / kāreareas. The two parents had accepted me so it became the norm for them and their fledglings to hang out nearby, notably in the early autumn when there would be some serious training going on that was all about catching mice in the long grass by Aspiring Hut. It became a fascinating privilege to have them around me albeit ignoring me in a sort of aloof way.

A juvenile learning to hunt for mice, using hearing more than sight, but make no mistake they’re very aware of the slightest movement in the grass even when airborne and 30-40 mts away…

NZ falcon / kārearea by a DOC sign

This juvenile failed to find a mouse for lunch so flew up into a nearby tree and made such a racket hoping the nearby parents would supply some food – none was forth coming however…
Juvenile NZ falcon / kārearea

Adult NZ falcon / kārearea with a fresh lunch at Aspiring Hut…
NZ falcon / kārearea with a mouse

Three years on and the family had shifted a little down valley, but I was remembered as I awkwardly squirmed under this alpine shrubbery, and then even more awkwardly got the camera activated and pointed upwards. The bird literally yawned and then got on with dealing with an itchy ear, while I’m less than two meters away!
NZ falcon / kārearea

So that was one thing going on in the West Matukituki Valley near Wanaka, where predator control is on-going after a significant upscaling of same back in 2014 by the Dept. of Conservation [DOC] and the Matukituki Charitable Trust.

In a nut-shell it’s working with an increase of all bird species, to the point that people staying in the valley at Aspiring Hut this summer past of 2017-18 reported that the dawn chorus woke them up too early!

Amongst an impressive line up of New Zealand song birds the melodious bellbird / korimako takes line honours in the “what a lovely day for singing my best tunes” stakes. They are also very clever at being able to mimic other sounds they encounter, even other birds, or noisy plumbing pipes in a lodge…
NZ bellbird / korimako

The flighty tomtit is one of the indicator species that signals that the bird habitat is getting back in balance to their advantage. The other being the rifleman and south island robin / toutouwai. All are increasingly evident in the area…
NZ tomtit

For two years now we’ve delighted in the valley to hear again the haunting calls of the morepork /ruru at night. We’ve seen them with fledglings too, and even hanging about Aspiring Hut catching moths drawn to the light, where they delight with their ability to arrive in a ghost like manner with absolutely no wind noise. Gentle souls! This one I got to know quite well after discovering him with a badly damaged wing. Sadly it’d been fly-blown, and the injury was not survivable despite vet intervention and antibiotics…
Morepork / ruru

And of special note, because they’re such an expensive species to help, is that kea numbers have increased – the valley is indeed still a nursery…

To get to this happy point required much planning and thousands of hours of work by volunteers and DOC staff.

What gave the birds a real “leg up” in the initial stages was an aerial application of 1080 poison, one that I was actually present for, as in living in the area and monitoring results. Then the installation of hundreds of new traps got fast forwarded by getting a large DOC Community Fund grant to buy them, and when done the bird populations got the most significant boost ever when the valley qualified again [based on gathered data] for another 1080 application in the spring of 2017.

And while we don’t know so much about numbers of predators that have died of poison, we do know that 3958 have been trapped by various trusts and DOC in the seasons 2016-17 and 2017-18 between Wanaka and the West Matukituki operation, as discussed here. The information is very detailed now as well, so hot-spots can be identified [relative to species of predator], and the choice of lure and trap types refined.

Here are some photos of some of the stages:

Finding out which species of predator needed to be knocked back in numbers meant installing tracking tunnels – an awkward task at best, but very necessary…
Tracking Tunnels, Mt Aspiring National Park

When the line is set up then at regular intervals during the year an inked card is placed in each tunnel overnight. What hungry critters are about are attracted to a lump of peanut butter in the centre and after a nibble they leave tracks on departing. By contrast an opossum will simply pull the card out and partially rip it up…Examining tracking tunnel cards for footprints


Carrying these slick funnels designed to catch beech tree seeds [so as to be able to predict how much food in advance will be available to predators] was another memorable job, especially in dense bush and up and down steep banks  – not one I’d like to repeat often! The stakes are used to support the funnels, which are fitted with some panty-hose at the bottom…
NZ beech forest seed funnels

DOC staff and volunteers counting beech seeds – a fun evening. Each handful, which were shot down in this instance with a shotgun/large calibre bullet, was host to about 100 seeds…
DOC staff and volunteers counting beech seeds

Traps now totalling almost 800 have been installed from way down the valley by Mt Aspiring Station to above Liverpool and French Ridge [pictured] huts, even in terrain that is snow covered in the winter. At this altitude the at risk species is the amazing rock wren, which hibernates under the snow for the winter…
French Ridge hut


Training up fit and competent teams to safely service the traps and tunnels in this typical southern alps terrain was another step along the way…
River Crossing, NZ

Installing a virtual barrier of traps to stop the migration of predators wishing to enter the valley was carried out at Hells Gates just a few Km upstream from Mt Aspiring Station’s homestead it is comprised of about 110 traps offset at 50 mt spacings, across this gap…
Hells Gates Matukituki Valley

Here are a few thoughts on some of the details and relationships that need to be considered and planned for in any “big picture” project like this one:

Of all predators the cat is the hardest one to entice into either a live catch cage, or the likes of a DOC 200 trap, and has to be lured in, often by laying food outside until trust is established over a number of days. Also cats apparently have a range of 20kms. It’s a fickle and time consuming exercise.

Education is critical for cat control, political or not. Education of children is very effective, then they go home and pester the parents, and simultaneously hopefully talk them into back yard trapping and home moggie management.

Meanwhile targeting the rabbits for miles around is known to be effective. Stoats for one will also travel vast distances for a tasty rabbit, and when they get scarce the stoat then targets birds. I imagine the same applies to ferrets and cats. Eliminate rabbits and the problem diminishes.

Dead stoat and eggs used for lures…
Dead stoat and eggs

Mice are another critical species to get under control, and that’s a challenge all over NZ!

Since a rat plague usually follows on from a mouse one, [which follows a prolific seeding of trees, which follows warmer seasons].

It’s been a definite advantage in the valley to have 4wd access, but every now and then after a severe rain event, the road has to be repaired…
DOC 4wd and digger

The opossum numbers have to be quantified also, and appropriate strategies worked out to get their numbers down, and then the quality of the forest habitat soars in favour of the birds.

Baby opossum near Wilson’s Bluff. A little usual to see one like this in broad daylight, but it was sick I think, as it had a damaged eye and was very sluggish…
Baby opossum

Lastly hedgehogs seem to hold a special place in the heart of NZ gardeners, but are known to be as efficient as a stoat at eating eggs and killing fledglings. More education required here too, and despite their tiny legs they’re now found and trapped at relatively high altitudes in our remote high country and even in damp environments such as braided river deltas.

Tools of the trade, a DOC 200 trap and lures used such as rabbit paste. I think the local robin / toutouwai knows the benefits of good gear – actually while trapping it is quite normal to become friends with the locals, and to cement the relationship scuffing up some moss and dirt to reveal grubs is good form….
DOC 200 and baits

South Island robin / toutouwai
South Island robin / toutouwai

Frost in the valley. I’ve included this to illustrate that on the clearing on the right, called Butlers, the south island robin / toutouwai is now regularly seen. About a doz. were translocated to Aspiring Hut [2 hours walk up the valley] about a decade ago. We’ve known for sometime that they’ve been doing well especially of late, but I’m now very pleased that they’ve migrated this far away from the area they were released, which by-the-way is also by the mouth of the Rob Roy Glacier valley/walk, and quite close to the carpark/trailhead. 

Kaka – apparently 5 of were spotted several months ago at the Aspinall Family’s old Mt Aspiring Station Homestead at the mouth of the east branch of the Matukituki river, [donated to Dunstan High School and converted into a comfortable Lodge]. The observer was my friend Eric who has taught school courses there for many many years, and he said it’s the first time he’s seen more than one there. This good news will be due to what is known as the halo effect, DOC’s efforts, and to trapping by my late friend Sam Mcleod who sadly passed away just a few weeks ago. We’re looking forward to knowing more about what is in this valley quite soon – some trips are planned!
Kaka portrait

Lastly a heads-up about a new project I’m involved with for the Makarora catchment – the Aspiring Biodiversity Trust. I took on the building of the web site >>

A year in the life of the Matukituki Charitable Trust operating in Mt Aspiring National Park

The Matukituki Charitable Trust which operates in Mt Aspiring National Park has just released a newsletter which is reproduced below, [unless otherwise indicated photos and italicised text are by Donald Lousley who btw is proud to have been involved trapping, monitoring and making photos towards assisting with the great results as outlined below]:

Kia Ora

The Matukituki Charitable Trust (MCT) was established by Gillian and Derek Crombie in 2013 to ensure that the natural attributes in Mt Aspiring National Park’s Matukituki Valley are protected and enhanced. In partnership with New Zealand’s Dept. of Conservation (DOC), the Trust are now well on the way to restoring the habitat and increasing the population of all native flora and fauna with the long-term goal of translocating other species to this unique valley.

Matukituki charitable trust news 888

2016/17 Season West Matukituki Valley

MCT has successfully completed its busiest and most challenging year due to the dedication and determination of Paul Hellebrekers and our team of volunteers (more later). The team has completed the installation of 657 traps in the valley, implementing the first phase of the Trusts trap installation efforts. The traps have already shown their worth with a record number of 780 kills this season (end of May) and of real impact 95 stoats, 117 possums and 130 rats. For the first time we have encountered a number of cats with 12 caught. MCT plan to install 40 cat specific traps next year.

The Trust have also assisted DOC with rodent monitoring work, beech seed monitoring, and installing a rabbit proof fence near Cascade Hut – a great all-round effort.

The Trust has been very well supported by our volunteers and financial sponsors, showing that this effort to maintain and improve the valley does matter to people who are willing to give time, money and skills to make a difference.

We are winning and seeing great improvements in birdlife activity. With the current year being a beech mast event, we expect a real battle with predators in the spring and trust that DOC’s Battle for Our Birds campaign will be able to assist MCT work over this period.

Challenges and Triumphs

The year has been challenging in the valley with a semi beech mast event occurring last year but not enough to trigger an aerial predator control operation, so we have had to rely solely on the traps to reduce rodent numbers.

Matuki trust funnel
Beech seed funnel being installed to aid in the prediction of food amounts available to predators


To date birdlife has held up with a lot of anecdotal reports of good bird activity around the huts and tracks but fewer sightings of kea than a year or two ago. A few long term valley users reported that the morning chorus was amazingly better.

We are hoping that the trapping done over summer will allow a reasonable breeding season this year and avoid a population collapse. The high number of predator catches indicates a good breeding season for these species with the traps working and birdlife seems to be holding.

Over the last few years we have seen considerable increase in the numbers of South Island robin, kakariki and even a few kereru. This is very exciting for Heather and Stu Thorne who nurtured the small robin population which were translocated by DOC from the Dart Valley back in 2007 and 2008. Heather managed to catch and band 50 robins this year – a fantastic and patient result.

South Island robin in red beech forest
South island robin in red beech forest between Aspiring and Cascade huts


Overall birdlife is becoming more visible with confirmed sightings of kea, kaka, kakariki, bellbirds, kereru, native falcon, morepork, SI robin, fantail, tomtit, rifleman, rock wren, and Long Tail bats.

We are also noticing some strong regrowth in the undergrowth with the reduction in possum numbers. Overall the combination of poison and trapping has made a big improvement in the valley.

Paul’s contribution to designing and managing the work-plan is the primary reason that MCT have achieved its success and we are extremely fortunate to have Paul’s skills and knowledge.

Sponsors and Volunteers Support

The trust would not be able to achieve its progress without the help of our sponsors and volunteers.
This year we recognise the contribution from:

  • Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds (Tom Elworthy) who have again financially supported Paul’s position as Operations Manager.
  • Tait Electronics (Garry Diack) who provided radios to improve field safety.
  • Stuart and Coleen Landsborough who funded the trap eggs for the season. Over 300 dozen eggs!
  • Longview Environmental Trust (John May) who sponsored this seasons Forest Bird survey and the use of their 4WD vehicle when required.
  • Aspiring Helicopters Ltd who provided assistance with high trap line access to keep the “old volunteers” mobile
  • DOC Community Fund (Formerly CCPF) who have largely funded the cost of traps and installation costs excluding volunteer time. 2017 is the final year of a funding grant approved 4 years ago.
  • DOC Wanaka for assistance with transport, expert advice and accommodation for volunteers.
  • Gillian and Derek Crombie provided general MCT funding.

Matukituki charitable trust tait 454
photo by MCT of Tait Electronics (Garry Diack in the centre) providing radios to Derek and Gillian

Also, a huge thank you for general donations received from those interested in supporting our project. Your donations help the Trust to positively focus on our vision

What has the Trust Achieved in 2017.
2016/17 Catches:

Matukituki charitable trust kill sheet 768
data by MCT

MCT are four years into a 5 to 10 year programme to restore the valley and so far we have a total of 657 traps installed including:

  • 142 DOC 250 single set Traps
  • 343 DOC 200 single set Traps
  • 5 DOC 200 Twin set
  • 33 Goodnature Possum Traps
  • 10 Goodnature Stoat Traps
  • 119 Trapinator Possum Traps
  • 5 Timms traps
  • 16 Beech Seed funnels
  • 80 Tracking tunnels

Matukituki charitable trust tracking tunnels
Examining predator tracks left in tracking tunnels



Over the last year MCT has provided $37,000 to fund the project and, in addition, volunteers have contributed 2,636.5 hours. Total funding to date for the project exceeds $140,000 and over 5000 volunteer hours plus considerable DOC hours in support. To maintain all the activities long term we are budgeting around $50,000 per year which will enable us to engage some assistance to check and maintain the trap network as well as extending some of the key trap lines that provide protections to kea and rock wren.

Kea on an electric fence
A kea, one of three now banded, on an electric fence – Cameron Flat, June 2017


The network of traps now extends on both sides of the river from Mt Aspiring Station homestead to the head of the West Matukituki at Scott’s Bivvy. Side trap lines include Otago Boys High School Lodge, Rob Roy Valley, French Ridge, Gloomy Gorge, Liverpool Track and above Cascade Track and Shotover Saddle route. The cost of traps purchased to date is almost $100,000.

Opossum in a Trapinator
One less predator caught in a Trapinator


Bird Monitoring

A big effort was made for the first time with bird monitoring. Three groups; Mainly Fauna (forest bird counts), Kea Conservation Trust (kea) and DOC (rock wren) carried out monitoring and banding programmes.

Matukituki Valley flock of kea
Matukituki Valley flock of kea above Aspiring Hut Feb 2017


DOC carried out a cat survey in May this year to determine the prevalence of feral cats in the valley. Low levels were recorded but control is recommended. Also, Patrick Stewart of Sound Counts brought a group of students from the North Island for the second year to monitor birds and long tailed bats with acoustic monitors. These surveys are the first so the results will be compared with the coming year to determine changes. Overall the survey indicated that bird numbers are fairly low. MCT are confident that there has been an increase compared to 5 years ago.

Mainly Fauna reported that estimated densities were high for rifleman (5.5 birds/ha), but considerably lower for bellbird, parakeet, robin and tomtit (≤1.1 birds/ha). Native species were encountered more frequently (54.0 birds/km) than introduced species (36.5 birds/km). Encounter rates were highest for chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs; 18.7 birds/km), followed by rifleman (17.2 birds/km), encounter rates for all other species were less than 8 birds per km.

NZ falcon
New Zealand falcon near Cascade Hut – March 2017


Anyone wanting copies of any of the monitoring reports referred to in the newsletter please contact MCT ( ) or Paul Hellebrekers.

Other Activities

As well as the active field work we have:

  • Held a well-supported Health and Safety induction course for volunteers
  • Continued our involvement in the Community Fund programme
  • Assisted other similar Trusts with resources
  • Played a key role in the wider Matukituki Catchment Animal Pest Control Project
  • Attended the Dunedin Conference- Inc – run by Yellow Eyed Penguin trust
  • Attended the inaugural Kea Conservation Trust conference at Arthurs Pass
  • Attended Predator Free NZ seminar in Queenstown

Matukituki Valley kea on a fence near a truck
Kea on a fence near DOC vehicle leaving Aspiring Hut

Partnership with DOC

MCT has continued its relationship with DOC Wanaka. Our thanks go to Mike Tubbs for DOC support and to the local team of Anita, Flo, Annette, Kerie and Dave for their practical support. MCT have nothing but full commitment from the Wanaka DOC team and this is a major factor in the continuing success of the programme.

Special recognition goes to Florence Gaud (Flo) who provides the technical expertise for the project and connects the various strands of work being done from trapping to monitoring to health and safety.

Volunteers -Hard Yards

The volunteer achievements of the Trust are credited to Paul Hellebrekers, Stu and Heather Thorne and Flo Gaud. This team have undertaken hundreds of hours work in the valley, much of it heavy lifting, cutting tracks and lugging traps through the forest. One new tough trap line was established through forest on the true left of the river, extensions to the Gloomy Gorge and ‘Wet Feet’ lines were also completed, along with replacing many of the older DOC traps. Trapinators have been added to most of the lower valley forest lines to target possum, with Goodnature A12 traps installed on some of the upper valley forested lines.

The Trust is fortunate to have a wide and capable pool of volunteers to the extent that we
seldom have a shortfall of people for work days.

Matuki trust heli
Aspiring Helicopters picking up volunteers


The teams generally fall into two groups: days trips to clear the lower valley traps – generally 4 or 5 people for a day a month, and overnight groups to install or clear the upper valley traps- usually 3 to 4 people. Anyone interested in joining the team are very welcome. MCT have work available for every level of fitness and experience from clearing traps alongside the road to high alpine traps requiring good back country experience.

Volunteers who have made it happen this season include:

  • Paul and Tess Hellebrekers
  • Stu and Heather Thorne
  • Gillian, Derek Crombie and the Crombie family
  • Rod MacLeod
  • Donald Lousley
  • John Hogg
  • Jane and Ian Turnbull
  • Murray Burns
  • Neil Sloan
  • Grant Morgan
  • Roger Brash
  • Henry Aubrey
  • Kris Vollebregt
  • Jane James
  • OBHS Students
  • Sandy and Stephen Mattingly
  • Roy Borgman
  • Randall and Alison Aspinall
  • Patrick Stewart (Bird and Bat Count Acoustics)

Mt Aspiring Station muster
Mt Aspiring Station muster – Randall and Sue Aspinal


Planning for 2017/18 season

We will be clearing the traps through the winter period where this is safe and from that we will get an indication of the number of predators present. The clearing of the traps will then ramp up again in spring. A recent Tracking Tunnel survey indicated very high levels of mice (100%) and rats (10.08%) over 16 tracking lines, so it looks like we will have a busy season ahead.

A significant project planned for in October, is the installation of 100 traps of various types to form a “Barrier” at the entrance to the valley near Hells Gates. Mt Aspiring Station landowners, Randall and Alison Aspinall have generously agreed to MCT installing a tight grid of traps between the bluffs and OBHS Lodge to prevent animals migrating up the valley. The traps will be placed at 50 metre spacing in several lines perpendicular to the river. Otago Boys High School students have expressed an interest in being involved in the project which is great.

Planning is also well underway to continue the monitoring programme (Kea, Rock Wren, Bats and forest birds) along with the monitoring of the current beech mast impacts.

MCT has engaged Mainly Fauna Ltd to carry out a repeat bird monitoring survey in the valley.

The Kea Conservation Trust obtained funding to research the kea population in the Matukituki Valley. This project has 3 main aims to support kea conservation initiatives:

  1. run an initial catch trip to enable attachment of transmitters and bands to adults and bands to fledglings and juveniles,
  2. monitor kea nest productivity and predator impact through the breeding season,
  3. run a kea survey and combine with all other data to provide a baseline for the local kea population. While their initial catch trip was thwarted by bad weather and had to be postponed until next spring, we support and encourage this work as it will help determine whether we are targeting predator control for kea as effectively as we can.

Join us in this quest for a unique valley experience.

The MCT Trustees and volunteers are ready for the coming season and looking with trepidation on the task of clearing and resetting over 700 traps up to the snow line. However, when we see the rewards of birdsong and activity and it all makes sense.

For further information on the Trust or the project please contact us:

Trust Website: or email
Or donate to: Matukituki Charitable Trust (Bank Account) 03-1594-0586292-000
Trustees: Gillian & Derek Crombie and Mark Pizey.


NZ falcon with a mouse
NZ falcon with a mouse by Aspiring Hut


NZ falcon landing in a tree
NZ falcon landing in a tree by Aspiring Hut


Matukituki Valley tomtit
Matukituki Valley tomtit


Opossum – one not caught, but encountered during trapping. The sore eye maybe the result of a scrap with another possum


South Island robin feeding
South Island robin feeding at Aspiring Hut


Matuki trust french 2
Looking across Gloomy Gorge from French Ridge Hut – some of the highest altitude areas The Trust traps.