Around 50 pupils from Ahipara School went to the beach last week, but not for the usual reasons.

They actually spent their day in the dunes, joining forces with members of the Te Rarawa hapū collective Ahipara Takiwā, and staff from the Northland Regional Council and Department of Conservation, to ) to plant hundreds of native tihetihe (spinifex, or tumbleweed), which will trap wind-blown sand and help re-build the dunes at Mapere.

Te Rarawa kaiarataki — environmental co-ordinator Rongo Bentson said the Mapere block was area of environmental and cultural significance for local hapū. The dunes had been the focus of ongoing restoration efforts by Ahipara Takiwā over recent years, in response to erosion, and he was delighted to see the kaitiaki of the future involved in the work, supported by DoC and the NRC.

"They're not just learning about conservation, but putting it into practice right here at home," he said.


Northland Regional Council coastcare co-ordinator Laura Shaft was equally pleased to see the children so enthusiastic about conservation.

"It was great to see so many children return from previous years' plantings, and that they remembered the names of the plants," she said. Tihetihe runners could spread grow up to seven metres a year, which helped spread the plants and secure the dunes.

The plants had been provided by the NRC's environment fund, from seeds collected at Ahipara.

The NRC has supported the dune restoration at Mapere for several years, while community ranger Jaden Lewis said his DoC team was also keen to support Te Rarawa, and to help teach the children to be kaitiaki.

"We thoroughly believe the next generation needs to be equipped to deal with the environmental issues we're facing. We need to teach them kaitiaki values, and why looking after the environment is so important," he said.

"A lot of schools and teachers want to instil these values in students, and we have the passion and commitment to help.

"It was outstanding to see the children so involved and willing to take part. They were ready and able to answer why we're doing this mahi, and talk about the importance of planting to restore the dunes to how they're meant to be," Jaden said.

Harakeke (flax) and pōhutukawa grown by Te Rarawa's Tuia Nursery were also planted in the back dunes.