Get on track with Alfie Kākā
Alfie Kākā

Get on track with Alfie Kākā

If fresh air and exercise is your thing, then the track team might be your calling

I’ve just met some of Zealandia’s track team. I didn’t know what to expect really. Some kind of experts in running jumping and throwing things maybe?

But I quickly found out that while mountain biking and walking were involved, so was lopping, sawing and digging. Track maintenance is their game, and there are two teams, mid-week and weekend.

I flew down to the ops shed to interview them and get some pics.  Early morning and a cool start to the day, just 8 degrees with rain, but hey, we kākā are tough – and it looks like these guys are too.  I caught up with their convener Edmund Stephen Smith, who introduced me to Greg and Reino.  Today is a small turnout. There is a pool of about 30 volunteers, and an average of around 6 that make it to a scheduled weekend’s work.

“We’re working on the Eastern Firebreak track today, and we will be biking as far as we can, so we can get more time working.  It’s about a 45 minute walk, and if we bike we can cut that down by 15 minutes.  We’re just getting our tools ready Alfie, why don’t we meet you up there?”

“Sure, but before you go, can I take a pic?  I’ve just got hold of the new Nestormatic BEV (Birds Eye View)”

They posed politely for me, but then I could see they were keen to get going so I took off, gained height quickly in the breeze, and headed south over the lake, catching a glimpse of them biking up Lake Road.  Gliding over the upper dam, I had to put in some strong wing beats to climb into the southerly towards the steep slope and open ground up on the firebreak.  I found a perch overlooking a scrubby area which showed signs of recent clearing work, and had a think about tracks.

Of course we kākā don’t walk on them, but we do use some of them as tunnels through the canopy, like the speedway short-cut up to the dam feeders from Tūī Terrace.  But without well-maintained tracks, humans would not be able to get far into the valley, into some of the quietest places with the loudest birdsong.

Up on the ridges, there are places where the canopy opens out, and gorse gets enough light to flourish, and can pretty soon make the tracks impassable.

When the team arrived Edmund explained that the first aim was to get rid of big gorse plants to stop the seed dispersing from them, and after that to patiently pull out any new seedlings.  “We have removed over 1000 seedlings from this stretch of track in the last few months, but we need to keep an eye out for re-growth and old seeds germinating.  And to wear gardening gloves!”

“The other enemy that is not so easy to see, but just as much of an obstacle when grown, is barberry. That’s Darwin’s Barberry or to you Alfie, Berberis darwinii.  We are pulling out every one we see”. He held up a recent victim to show me.  I blurted out .. “but the berries are de...” when I realised that adding .. “licious” might not be tactful, so mumbled a skraark instead.

Meanwhile Greg was lopping further up the path, and Reino was grappling with a huge gorse bush. “The tall ones probably got started at the same time as the manuka around them and keep pace with their growth to get the light they need.”  Then he started sawing vigorously.

These guys were having so much fun I thought it was about time I left them to enjoy themselves in peace.  I thanked them all for their efforts on our behalf (it’s my elder statesbird showing), and beaked up to higher branch before launching to head back.  Afternoon already, and after such a busy morning, perhaps a sugar-water or two and a nap to follow?

If you are interested in getting involved in volunteering to make a positive difference while getting fresh air and companionship in an amazing environment, then contact ZEALANDIA at or fill out an Expression of Interest.

Photos and story by your eye-in-the-sky Alfie Kākā. Take a look at my 360 degree BEV of the track team here on Facebook.

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