A unique initiative between Ngati Whakaue and Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust will construct a new conservation centre on iwi land in Rotorua.

Wingspan director Debbie Stewart said one of the main reasons for the move was so the organisation could expand and grow.

"We get about 20,000 people through a year but by our business planning it looks like we'll be up to 100,000 people per year.

"So economically, appealing to tourists as well, as conservation values – we're ticking the boxes on all of those," Stewart said.

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Rotorua deputy mayor Dave Donaldson drew the comparison that "Kaikoura might have the whales, but it is Rotorua that has the karearea New Zealand falcons as a base".

Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands general manager Ray Morrison said discussions with Wingspan started about 18 months ago when it approached iwi about use of the land.

"We jumped on board because it ticks a lot of our boxes and we see it as a good use of our land, it's sustainable eco-tourism," Morrison said.

However, Morrison said iwi would not be getting involved with general management of the centre and would effectively be landlords.

An early morning gathering was held on the northern slopes of Mt Ngongotaha on Friday morning.

"This gathering was just formalising the announcement because we're so proud to be working with Ngati Whakaue," Stewart said.

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"It's quite special really because both of us are independent of government and local body funding so this is an initiative where we are partnering together for the right reasons."

The occasion marked a "welcome to the land" with a formal blessing by kaumatua Monty Morrison.

The ceremony included participation by Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands, Rotorua Lakes Council, and Wingspan representatives, and the blessing included speeches of support by local iwi, and the 'turning of the sod' cemented a unique relationship; described by Wingspan as a New Zealand first as an independent conservation initiative.

From left; Geoff Rolleston, Dave Donaldson, Trevor Maxwell, Ray Morrison, Monty Morrison, Noel Hyde, Steve Lawrence, Debbie Stewart and Joanne McCracken. Photo/Kurien Koshy Yohannan
From left; Geoff Rolleston, Dave Donaldson, Trevor Maxwell, Ray Morrison, Monty Morrison, Noel Hyde, Steve Lawrence, Debbie Stewart and Joanne McCracken. Photo/Kurien Koshy Yohannan

Construction and development of the conservation centre will soon begin on the new site on the northern slopes on Paradise Valley Rd.

A design plan for the new centre is yet to be finalised.

During February the trust will close its doors to visitors at the current location, through the moving and transition period to the new site.

"The relocation has been in the planning for some years now, and we are very excited by the new opportunities and endorsement by Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands for this to be happening," said Stewart.

"This is a nationally significant project, and we are honoured by Ngati Whakaue to be able to lease the land, not least the wider community support that is making this new development possible."

All contributions are welcomed at http://www.wingspan.co.nz/wingspan_bird_of_prey_centre_donations.html