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William Woods - Voices of the Kaiwharawhara

William Woods - Voices of the Kaiwharawhara

Interviews and text by Janel Hull

William Woods is a business leader at CentrePort engaging both employees and school children in restoring the Kaiwharawhara estuary.


William Woods, Wellingtonian and CentrePort employee, at the Kaiwharawhara estuary. Photo: William Woods

Wellington’s port sits atop the harbour’s last remaining natural estuary where the Kaiwharawhara Awa spills into the ocean. This estuary is a special place for William Woods and his two children — Frank and Slyvie.

In 2019, he brought his 8-year-old daughter down to the estuary for an educational cleanup with a Kura Kaupapa Māori school. He watched as she and another student were “standing side by side, speaking Te Reo, learning about the estuary in Wellington harbour.” He has a clear passion for sharing the importance of the estuary with the community, educating children, and celebrating Te Reo Māori in the estuary.

William has worked at CentrePort for over ten years, currently as the port-business’s Strategic Planning Manager. One of his key responsibilities is establishing how CentrePort can serve as the connection between the Kaiwharawhara estuary and Wellington’s communities.

William says a workplace “culture of regeneration” is key to that vision. He wants the Port to not just have “the right infrastructure, but also the right culture and the right relationships.” This means having employees actively engaged in the community and te taiao (environment) through estuary cleanups, tours of the catchment, and educational trips for local schools. To make that possible, William has led the charge on a strategic partnership between CentrePort and Zealandia’s Sanctuary to Sea project.

In this partnership, CentrePort supports Sanctuary to Sea with funding, staff time on committees, and employee time dedicated to restoration.

“The partnership that we have now with Zealandia is seen as a really exciting and important community engagement opportunity for us…to weave that relationship back into our people and to offer people the opportunity… to be more aware and engaged in the environment and also in the community”

William has already noticed how CentrePort’s partnership with Zealandia and other community organisations is changing the employee experience. The conversations at the water cooler have shifted from workplace small talk to “a much richer conversation” about volunteering, the environment, and how they can be involved. This sense of shared mission has also facilitated deeper connections between workers. “The more we get to know each other, the more that we can understand each other and work as a team,” says William.

Previous CentrePort chief executive Derek Nind and previous Zealandia chief executive Paul Atkins celebrate the Sanctuary to Sea Project partnership at the estuary mouth at CentrePort. Photo: Zealandia

In addition to enriching the lives of employees, William also sees it as his responsibility to connect the younger generation to the Kaiwharawhara.

During a recent estuary cleanup, William talked to volunteers about their childhood memories of the stream. As he heard their stories, he “started to realise that over the last 50 years or so, communities of children have come down from the Ngaio hills, sometimes on innertubes down the stream itself, and have played in the CentrePort land.” He heard stories of children building huts in trees and splashing around in the estuary.

Listen to William talk about volunteers childhood memories in the Kaiwharawhara estuary

He chuckles, even though these stories may “horrify the security officer and the health and safety officer,” he wants to make sure children can continue to safely build happy memories and learning experiences in the Kaiwharawhara estuary.

He works to connect tamariki/children to the stream through CentrePort’s educational events with schools like Enviroschools.

No matter their age, William thinks that Wellingtonians each have something to offer in the restoration of the Kaiwharawhara.

“From top to bottom in the catchment there are ways that you can actively participate, even if it’s one day in the year.”

William frequently brings his two children to river cleanups. He loves feeling like his whānau/family “made a difference and contributed to something and it becomes a day that you remember.” He encourages other Wellingtonians to volunteer and bring along children to share in the experience.

He also thinks businesses have a unique opportunity to lead in restoring ecosystems and urges others to partner with community organisations like Zealandia.

William ends his interview on a hopeful note for the future of the port. The Wellington port has been a hub in Aotearoa New Zealand’s community and economy for about 150 years. “We’re a business that’s going to need to be there for the next 150 years because we’re a key part of how Wellington and the region operates and functions.”

“There’s a great opportunity for us to really make a difference and to improve the area in long term for next generation” and that is an opportunity that Centreport is embracing wholeheartedly.

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