The proud culmination of years of hard work by a very special team.

That's how the opening of a new walkway in the Kaimai Mamaku State Forest Park is being viewed.

Sunday's official opening of the Pā Kererū Loop Walkway, a 40-minute forest walk in Whakamārama, will mark the end of a journey for those on the Mahi Boys work training programme.

It's a programme with a difference, as all the participants are clients of the Bay of Plenty District Health Board mental health service.


"What Sunday's opening is all about is honouring the boys for the work they've done up here," says team leader Paul Mason.

"I'm really happy that's the focus because they've done all the hard work and if it wasn't for these guys that track wouldn't be there.

Members of the team at work on the track. Photo / Supplied
Members of the team at work on the track. Photo / Supplied

"It's a big thing really. This track was initially thought about back in the 1970s and here it is finally coming to fruition."

Mason previously worked in Tauranga Hospital's Mental Health Acute Inpatient Unit.

There he observed some patients becoming involved in adverse incidents when bored and inactive.

This was the catalyst for the Mahi Boys.

Members of the team at work on the track. Photo / Supplied
Members of the team at work on the track. Photo / Supplied

"They get a sense of pride from having been out working," Mason says.

"They feel 'normal' whatever 'normal' means in that when they're out here doing this they're just guys working out in the bush, they're not mental health patients. They learn some great skills. There are a lot of benefits."


The Mahi Boys programme has worked closely with the Whakamārama Community Inc, who will be hosting Sunday's official opening, during the construction of the Pā Kererū Loop Walkway.

The backbreaking work they have undertaken on the walkway has included track construction and stabilisation and the building of bridges, walkways and drainage works.

Members of the team at work on the track. Photo / Supplied
Members of the team at work on the track. Photo / Supplied

They have used flying foxes to move timber down into the gullies and at one stage a naval helicopter was even employed to help transport some of the tonnes of metal fill required for the track substrate.

The rest was taken in by good old-fashioned sweat.

"It's a pretty cool operation and we get a lot from it," said Brandon, who has been one of the Mahi Boys for eight years.

"For a long time I was housebound and wouldn't go outside but being part of this has helped a lot with that, just getting out and meeting new people that I can relate to has been important for me. We've achieved a lot in the last eight years."

Alexander James "AJ" said working on the track brought a "sense of being part of the community" while Rob said it had helped keep him "motivated in life".

A Navy helicopter helps bring in material for the track in 2013. Photo / Supplied
A Navy helicopter helps bring in material for the track in 2013. Photo / Supplied

Matthew C said constructing the track's bridges had been "a buzz" and being a Mahi Boy had helped put his "mind on track".

"We've come a long way to get to this point, everyone's put in a lot of effort, and it really does feel like we've done a good job with it," Geoffrey said, who added that the programme had given him motivation and the opportunity of "being seen in life".

Matthew H has been a programme member for more than four years and said it had given him a "strong attitude, better behaviour" and shown him "possibilities to life".

William said the programme gave participants "something rewarding to do" and that there was a sense of pride in what had been achieved.

Taking a well-earned break. Photo / Supplied
Taking a well-earned break. Photo / Supplied

Around 15 people work on the programme, Monday to Thursday, from 8am-4pm.

The team is based in Whakamārama but the work can take them to many parts of the Western Bay of Plenty.

The varied work undertaken by members of the Mahi Boys programme enables the development of transferable workplace and social skills.

The programme's success is demonstrated by a decrease in average bed stay, a drop in readmission rates, and an improvement in participants' general functioning and health.

Some people have also now secured part-time employment in the community.

"Both Paul [Mason] and Pete [Bull] have been tremendous advocates for all the people who have worked on the programme and without their unwavering enthusiasm and boundless energy the work completed may never have happened," the health board's community mental health service manager, Michael Joyce, said.

"All the programme participants are role models to what can be achieved with a can-do/will-do attitude."

The Pā Kererū Loop Walkway
The walk is an easy grade for families with small children and goes through a variety of habitats. It has several bridges over streams, and boardwalks through wetlands, as well as following historic tramways dating back to the 1920s when the area was logged for rimu and other native trees from the virgin bush of those days.

Pā Kererū Loop Walkway opening
When: 2pm this Sunday
Where: "The Blade" carpark, end of Whakamārama Rd, Kaimai Mamaku State Forest Park. If raining, the opening will be held in the Whakamārama Hall, opposite the school.
Who: All are welcome

- Some individuals requested not to give full names for this story.