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NORTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND
Maori for ‘first place of plenty’, Ohuatahi in New Zealand’s North Island is home to the secluded sanctuary of Tahi. Eight-hundred acres of golden sands and South Pacific surf meet estuaries, wetlands and native forest. As the result of an extensive wetland restoration, indigenous planting and pest control program, Tahi is a model for commercially-minded conservation. The owners adhere to sustainable principles in everything they do; luxury hospitality is integrated with a profound respect for natural surroundings.
Over the course of eleven years, 280,000 indigenous trees have been planted and 14 wetlands have been restored. As a testament to their success, birds have returned to Tahi, having vanished after years of neglect as a run-down cattle farm. The sanctuary is now home to over 65 species of native birds, including the endangered Australian brown bittern. The reawakening of Tahi is as much about the local Maori community as it is about the land. Priority is given to neighbouring residents when it comes to procurement and employment and the sanctuary carries out several Maori education initiatives.
A sense of place is deeply woven into the accommodation and activities on offer at Tahi. Guest villas feature Maori crafts and artifacts, as well as books on Maori and settler history. Guided walks by a member of the local Maori community take visitors through the ancient trees, local history and traditional myths and legends of the area. With the ocean, lakes and forests on the doorstep, Tahi days are nature-led and time for reflection is plentiful.
Tahi joined The Long Run in 2011 and committed to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region.
Tahi is recognised as a New Zealand model for biodiversity conservation and sustainable environmental management and has received a number of accolades for its efforts in these areas. It is situated in an area with a rich diversity of habitats, from tussock grasslands on the sand dunes neighbouring the beach, through to native New Zealand forests in the upper parts of the property. It is therefore no surprise that the bulk of its conservation efforts are geared toward the restoration of these natural habitats that have been altered detrimentally over the centuries by human settlements and the introduction of alien plant and animal species.
With an extensive wetland restoration and indigenous planting programme combined with a pest control scheme both within its natural boundary and surrounding areas, Tahi has seen positive signs of the regeneration of indigenous species. Most notable has been the rapid recovery of native bird populations of which Tahi has so far identified 65 species including the endangered Australasian brown bittern.
As a result of Tahi’s restoration efforts and being biodiversity and carbon positive they are now a member of the International Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme. Working closely with the New Zealand government as a pilot project in order to monitor, develop and share best practises in biodiversity offset design and implementation. This will involve an intensive year long monitoring of biodiversity levels, to be run in conjunction with already established systems at Tahi.
Tahi is part of the Pataua community, which comprises local farmers originally descended from European settlers who came to the area in the 19th century, members of the Te Waiariki Maori people who inhabited the area prior to the arrival of the European settlers, and who are now farmer-land owners living on the adjoining Maori reserve land. Tahi maintains good relationships with its surrounding communities, and is committed to promoting sustainable livelihoods and healthy lifestyles throughout.
Involved in many community-driven initiatives, such as pest control programmes, aiding in the creation of wetlands in neighbouring community land and providing educational tours for Maori elders, schools, universities alongside opening the reserve to daily hikers and horse riders. In addition, it supports local enterprises by giving first priority to local Patua residents when procuring all its services and support needs, while also providing employment to many members of the community.
With several archaeological sites, a prominent Pa (a fortified village and a secure living place for Maori elders and a centre for learning, crafts and horticulture) alongside a number of locations where middens, (prehistoric rubbish dumps comprising archaeological treasure troves of how people used to live) and house platforms are to be found, indicating extensive previous human settlement. Guest villas feature Maori artefacts and crafts, as well as books on Maori and settler history and culture; and the owners of Tahi themselves are well versed in the intricacies of Maori culture. One staff member is a well-respected and knowledgeable member of the local Iwi (tribe).
Among the activities offered to guests are guided walks where the ancient trees, local history and customs alongside traditional myths and legends of the area are explained by a member of the neighbouring Maori community. As the Maori are protective of their cultural heritage each guide is carefully vetted before being ‘accredited’ by the local elders and community.
Tahi organises an annual Open Day which is a cultural exchange event aimed at not only opening the property to interested community so they can view the evolving landscape while also enhancing understanding and coexistence between the diverse cultures and peoples (European, Pataua and Maori) present at Tahi. At these open days, local communities are encouraged to sell their arts, crafts and food in stalls set up by Tahi, further promoting and supporting the exchange of cultural knowledge.
In addition to its tourism business, Tahi continually seeks ways to diversify its income streams and at the same time provide benefits to local communities. One such project is the production and marketing of Manuka honey, a type of honey prized for its anti-bacterial properties, for healing wounds and injuries and other health promoting effects. Having just won the regional Sustainable Business of the Year award the honey production blends in well with Tahi’s sustainable environmental management and conservation model.