The first phase in development of a unique wildlife sanctuary on the iconic 18-hole Wairakei Golf Course near Taupo has been completed.
The ambitious project is being undertaken by golf course owner, Auckland businessman Gary Lane to create an environment where golf and the natural habitat work in harmony.
Mr Lane, who is a keen golfer, said when he first played golf at Wairakei some 20 years ago – as a visitor to the course – he thought it was a “fantastic place”.
“It has always been special, partly because of the natural contours of the land and the magnificent scenery.
“When the Government commissioned the course 40 or so years ago, the golf course architects utilised the natural contours of the land without excessive need for earthworks.”
He said the opportunity to enhance the unique nature of the property by developing a sanctuary within the confines of the golf course had already been extremely satisfying. Physical work on the sanctuary got underway 18 months ago with construction of a two metre high predator fence around the perimeter of the 180 ha property.
“It is early days, but already the whole environment is changing with a noticeable increase in bird life,” said Mr Lane.
“We haven’t had pheasants around for years and they are out there again along with other ground dwelling birds like quail and water fowl
“It’s a paradise – and I love it,” said Mr Lane.
He said relocating the car park and pro shop to the main entrance outside the recently completed fence enhanced the park like surroundings of the golf course and reduced the risk of golfers and visitors bringing pests into the sanctuary.
The five kilometre long Xcluder fence is specially designed to keep out predators like rats, mice, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, feral cats and possums.
The new architecturally designed building at the entrance to the golf course accommodates the pro shop and cart shed along with a new sprig bar. A purpose built practice range that includes five target greens and a covered coaching facility, has been developed within the golf course complex, on the site of the former car park and pro shop.
Consultant for the project, Rotorua ecologist for Wildlands Ltd Tim Day said monitoring in the wake of an eradication programme in July indicated that the sanctuary was virtually pest free which had enabled restoration work to begin in earnest.
This has already involved the removal of blackberry and scrub on the perimeter of the golf course property, and re-planting of around 25,000 native trees and five thousand exotics.
Two hundred mixed colour pheasant are due for release on the property on December 28.
“We’ve already had golf course staff reporting a noticeable increase in insect life and tree seedlings and native birds like tui,” said Dr Day.
A full time gamekeeper employed to look after the sanctuary is responsible for day to day monitoring and checking of the fence line.
A small herd of around 15 fallow deer and a stag are being reared on site, within a deer fenced area. Dr Day said the species was small and very quiet and the deer were being hand reared to get them used to humans. The intention was to release them to roam freely on the golf course property within the next two years adding to the aesthetics of the course without having any major impact on the ecosystem.
Discussions are also underway with conservation agencies regarding the eventual release of some endangered species – like kiwi and brown teal – on to the property.
Dr Day said the project offered a “unique opportunity” to blend recreation with restoration and conservation.
“The restoration work being done at Wairakei will enable golfers to enjoy the game in a really beautiful environment.”
In October the golf course was voted number one course in New Zealand in an industry survey that took account of ratings from golf professional and people in the golf travel industry. It was also rated number one by readers of New Zealand Golf magazine.
An official opening of the Wairakei golf + sanctuary is set down to take place in March 2011.