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  • Writer's pictureRose Parsons

A Virtual Wetland Walk

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

We are on our arc of wetland with our farm animals over the Covid 19 isolation period. The word isolation for us is not a hardship. However we are possibly more fortunate than some who are working at the front line making it possible for us to survive, or those who have been asked to stay home in small houses or apartments in an urban setting. I guess there are pluses and minuses of all these situations. We would like to give a big shout out to the essential services and businesses who have had to put their livelihoods on hold for the good of the country. We will support you!

Like many, we feel powerless to help, other than keeping away. We thought we would give you a little virtual tour of our wetland, sorry we cannot send the sounds and smells. This is the online version of our little tour which we give to our retreat guests. The retreat will soon be in the capable hands of Jo & Jo (Mum and daughter in law) who are taking over our property when the Government gives us the green light to move. (Note I have spelt Government with a capital G which I reserve for when it has earned it.)

Will and I are very compatible when it come to animals, both raised on hill country farms in Marlborough it seems the most natural thing in the world to spend our Sunday cutting alpaca’s toenails or shearing sheep. Will’s interest in alpacas led us to taking on 5 female alpaca, later joined by 3 males. Guess what happened little cria (baby alpaca followed). What surprised us was the attraction they were for visiting tourists when we added our 2 bedroom purpose built retreat to the business. Suddenly we have cars pulling up with excited people leaping out saying “”alpaca, alpaca, we pay, we pay. Of course we said no need to pay, come and have a look. Selfies were taken with the alpaca who seem more than happy to be posted in Wu Chat. “Are they popular in Korea?” is ask. “They are now” was the reply.

The Wither Hills are the backdrop to the wetland property on which we have lived for 20 years. When Will bought the property a condition was to formalise the Queen Elizabeth II Trust covenant on the 20 acre title, adjacent to the home.

With the generous support of our QE II Trust reps, Marlborough District Council, Opawa Wines, Climate Change Action Youth, Senior Scouts and many others we have been able to carry out our management plan. Examples are removing weed trees like willow and oaks. Repair the crack damage on the Opawa River berm, caused by the 2016 earthquake and re-fence and plant the area in native trees.

Will has also planted in the wetland, one tree for every tour and, more lately, one tree for every tour booked. He and visiting woofers have actually planted far more than that. A saline wetland with a clay pan is a difficult environment to establish trees, even hardy natives. So there has been a fair bit of trial and error with which species are the most likely to thrive.

The wetland was created by the previous owners Graham and Ethne Copp with the assistance of Fish and Game and DoC (Department of Conservation). It is a fresh water wetland created to replicate the nearby Wairau Lagoon. Which today is a estuarine lagoon. It is a shallow wetland ideal for wading birds like pied stilt and kotuku. It is also frequented by a range of water fowl like paradise shelduck which are endemic to New Zealand and can be seen doing group aerial displays over the wetland in the Autumn. Our wetland is protected from duck hunting.

There is a stop bank to the west of the wetland and to the east a paddock grazed by our sheep and alpaca, bordering the slow moving Opaoa/Opawa River.

The plants of significance in the wetland are harakeke, (flax); ti kouka, (cabbage tree), raupo, ake ake, kowhai, ngaio and toi toi. Rare native birds seen are the shy Australasian bittern and cryptic marsh crake, both adapted to hide in the reeds. Man made paths and bridges created through the wetland allowed visitors to access the water edge and made easy access to rat and stoat traps. These tracks have all but disappeared. We have found minimal disturbance suits most wildlife, except perhaps the cheeky piwakawaka (fan tail) which loves to dart and dive over our heads.

We have felt very bless to have lived in this beautiful place for so long and we have especially enjoyed sharing it with other kiwis and overseas visitors. How lovely to hear “Your air is so fresh!” and see children terrified of our sweet sheep dog Bonnie on arrival, leave wanting to take her home. Bonnie loves to oblige and jumps in the car of the leaving guests.

The best time of the day to walk the wetland is when the sun is setting over Richmond Range with its purple and golden hues and the long shadows on the Wither Hills. 

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