A busy winter season of planting has begun on Mauao in Mount Maunganui, with Ngāi Te Rangi's future guardians getting their hands dirty and leading the way.

About 500 native plants were dug into a bank at the base of Mauao yesterday by 20 children under 5 and a team of adult helpers.

Ngāi Te Rangi's Kia Maia Ellis said the Mauao Trust had a big kaupapa (policy) around restoring the korowai (cloak) at Mauao.

"The Mauao ranger is in charge of getting all the plants together and as Ngāi Te Rangi, we get involved by organising groups from tangata whenua (people of the land) and our kōhanga reo (Māori language preschool) – we have three of them set to do planting this season."

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Yesterday saw the first group of kōhanga reo mucking in.

"Growing kaitiaki (guardianship) is what we do at the rūnanga, the resource management unit, so we try to reach our rangatahi, our preschoolers today, for each of the kōhanga reo," Ellis said.

Her daughter was one of the excited children taking part.

"It's about growing our kaitiaki, reconnecting with our whenua (land), and our maunga (mountain). This is our taonga (treasure) and all of our kids know this, so they are really proud to be able to plant trees and grow them and watch them grow."

Eveyjah Maihi, 3, mucking in. Photos / George Novak
Eveyjah Maihi, 3, mucking in. Photos / George Novak

Dave Grimmer, parks asset coordinator for Mauao, said they were planting three native species yesterday – wīwī (coastal rush), upokotangata (giant umbrella sedge), and wharariki (mountain flax).

He said the planting was part of a detailed conservation plan for the restoration of Mauao.

The three species chosen for that section of coastal fringe were recommended for those areas, were what would be naturally occurring there, and were also selected from a future landscape perspective.

"It's awesome to get the kōhanga reo coming here because they're the next generation who will be looking after the maunga," Grimmer said.

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"It's culturally significant but also young generations getting in there, getting their hands dirty, and helping us out is really cool. So they'll hopefully remember and come back and see these plants and see the positive difference they've made."

He said the adult helpers were probably going to be doing a lot of the mahi (work), especially the digging.

Ngāi Te Rangi's resource management unit manager, Reon Tuanau, said the aim was to "re-clothe our maunga here, back in the korowai of what it used to be in years gone by".

"It's also a great way to connect our young ones to Mauao – as we know Mauao's probably the most iconic site for all of the people in Tauranga Moana, especially for us as tangata whenua," he said.

"So it's about sharing connections through to the future, making sure they feel a part of this mountain continuously."

Tuanau said it was going to be a big planting season and everyone was invited to plant a tree during Matariki, the Māori New Year.