It was Kāpiti Island that inspired the valley which changed a nation.

Zealandia, coined "the valley that changed a nation" in Waikanae resident Jim Lynch's new book, was a vision for the city originally inspired by Jim's trips to Kāpiti Island.

Back in the 1990s Kāpiti Island was on track to become predator free and home to some of New Zealand's rarest native birds and wildlife when Lynch and his wife Eve thought it would be great if there could be something similar in the city.

"When Eve and I were in the Forest & Bird branch we used to run trips to Kāpiti Island.


"It was an amazing place and I used to think 'wow it would be great to have something like this in the capital city'."

Soon becoming vice-president of the Wellington branch of Forrest & Bird in charge of planning, Lynch conceived and initiated the Natural Wellington project, breaking new ground in biodiversity planning and introducing the concept of urban conservation.

"At that time most of the Wellington branch activities were focused on regional sites such as Kāpiti and Somes Islands and little was being done in the city apart from some weed control.

"Kāpiti Island was definitely a very big inspiration for what is now Zealandia."

ZEALANDIA: the valley that changed a nation has been written in time for a number of big anniversaries Zealandia is celebrating.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the fence, the country's first successful multi-species predator fence protecting a natural area; next year marks the 25th anniversary of the trust and the 30th anniversary since Natural Wellington.

"For the first 10 years it was all pretty exciting stuff, breaking new ground all the time, so this story is about that early period which will never be repeated.

"Thirty years of gripping action, a lot of it was fun, a lot of it was exciting, and a lot of it was terrifying. We broke the mould in many ways."


Back in the 1990s when the vision was first coming to life, people weren't used to fund conservation enterprises on the scale Lynch and his team were proposing.

"Because of that we missed out on a lot of big funders in the early 1990s.

"That was very scary as the delete button was very close to being hit on the whole project multiple times.

"Once the fence was built the scary bit was we then had to deliver on a whole lot of things that had never been done before — with most of it done by volunteers.

"The volunteering has been a huge success — numbers are up to 600 active and in training volunteers, with 200 volunteers on the waiting list.

"It's reached a point where unequivocally it's been a success on all accounts.

"We had some rocky years with the opening of the visitor centre just as the Global Financial Crisis hit and visitors stopped coming and people stopped spending money.

"But now our biodiversity goals are all tracking in the right directions with huge progress."

With the original vision being to create a Kāpiti Island in the middle of the city, recent Ornithological Society of New Zealand assessments show how the bird life in Zealandia has changed.

"Reports are showing the bird structure in the sanctuary is strongly tracking towards Kāpiti Island."

With biodiversity, community engagement and tourism goals all being reached, Zealandia is the example for professional community conservation enterprises around New Zealand.

"We basically wrote the manual, showed everyone how to do it and did the hard yards."

There are now 31 fenced sanctuaries around New Zealand and 80 professional community enterprises with objectives similar to Zealandia with those sanctuaries now protecting 44,000ha.

Zealandia has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars into conservation through its community conservation model.

"It's been a bumpy road, but the idea and the vision was so different and spectacular.

"While there were some things we could have done better, the power of the vision was so strong that no one wanted to give it up.

"It's all part of the scenery now but it has been an amazing journey."