School students have been helping restore two of Taupō's gullies.
Previously unloved and often ignored, the Waipāhīhī Gully and the Brentwood Gully have both been the scene of recent restoration and tree planting efforts by students from Waipāhīhī School and St Patrick's Catholic School.
While the Waipāhīhī Gully just needed the existing plantings weeded and tended to and new native plants put in, at the Brentwood Gully in Nukuhau the St Patrick's students have teamed up with Kids Greening Taupō to plant the gully sides with an attractive and low-growing range of native plants to beautify it.
The Brentwood Gully was recently the site of tree vandalism, with 50 trees in the gully having to be removed after their trunks were deeply cut using a chainsaw.
So Greening Taupō student rangers from St Patrick's approached the Taupō District Council to see whether it would consider teaming up to restore the gully, which is a popular walking and recreation spot.
The council came to the party, paying for native plants and clearing the area where the vandalised trees were. Greening Taupō held a planting day and all the St Patrick's classes took turns getting the new plants in the ground, under the leadership of St Patrick's Kids Greening Taupō student rangers, with Northwood Kindergarten also getting involved.
Rachel Thompson, Kids Greeing Taupō education co-ordinator, says St Patrick's students have shown great care for the gully and were keen to help restore it.
"We've had 300 kids from St Patrick's and each has planted several trees - we've planted 500 plants," Rachel says. "I took the kids down there the other day and it was so exciting to see their faces."
Rachel says the project gave the students the chance to plant some trees, see the work being done by the council that was instigated by their school's student rangers, hear the story of the resident karearea, learn about restoring Taupō's native trees to bring back the birds, and learn about trapping.
"Many of the children and teachers had never been in the gully before, so they enjoyed discovering the wonderful spot that's on their doorstep. Hopefully it will be a resource that they will use more often now.
"I kind of see it like a showcase project of what can happen if we get the local schools and council and the community on board - we can look after the other gullies around our town and make them as beautiful."
The trees planted in the gully were akeake, ti kouka (cabbage trees), manuka, kanuka, kowhai, totara, lancewoods and pittisporums, with the smaller plants going near the top of the gully so as not to grow up and obscure views.
Rachel says Taupō's gullies are underrated and undervalued, but they are actually wonderful places to recreate and for nature to flourish. People dumping green waste in the gullies cause huge problems as it allows weeds to spread.
The Waipāhīhī Gully is used by Waipāhīhī School students and teachers for Bush School, with the kids often going down there to learn and explore.
A planting day was held at the gully two years ago but the plants need maintenance for the first few years to allow them to thrive. So Waipāhīhī students recently had a session in the gully learning to mulch and weed with the Wicked Weeders, volunteers who look after the plants.
Later they held a planting day to fill in the gaps in the gully and spread plants further along the gully and their new mulching skills came in handy.
Rachel says the lesson was involving children more in the restoration projects rather than just focusing on planting.
Teacher Jen Maloney of Waipāhīhī School says the school has its own nature area, He Manu Whenua, which was first planted in 2015 and the skills the students learned in the gully from the Wicked Weeders have been extended to He Manu Whenua.
"Our learning topic this term has been our environment and it's that practical thing about the plants needing mulching and weeding. Lots of teachable learning moments have spun off from that."
She says the other valuable outcome has been the connection the students form with their local community, by meeting and learning from adults who are passionate about protecting the environment.