Single-handedly planting 6500 native trees since lockdown is a mission that Murray McKenzie doesn't see as work.

The Whangamata man won't accept any money for his hours of digging because, he says:
"Your motivation changes when you make money."

Murray returned to his hometown of Whangamata after a friend lost her life, and he has created some time outdoors to contribute to the Earth.

"I always wanted to do some conservation work but didn't come across much opportunity for any," he says.


Murray is a landscaper in the film industry and has worked on projects like Hobbiton, where he found real reward as a greens person. Since the lockdown has been lifted he has had no shortage of work opportunity.

But he put the word out that he was willing to help farmers plant native trees, and the offer was taken up by Dennis and Maureen Allison.

The Allisons' farm is on the way to Waihi from Whangamata and the family - along with local helpers - have already planted more than 5000 native trees that will provide benefits to wildlife and users of the Otahu Estuary below.

The trees are grown by their daughter Jane Straka who owns a commercial nursery in Wainui and is growing plants for the Government's One Billion Trees goal.

The Government has developed the One Billion Trees Programme to increase tree planting across New Zealand. The goal is to double the current planting rate to reach one billion trees planted by 2028.

Birds are making use of the habitat that the Allisons have recreated, including an Australasian bittern, which is one of the country's most cryptic and threatened wetland birds.

Dennis says the wetland was planted out about a decade ago and recently he's seen a fledgling with the bitterns.

"The wetland is looking amazing," he says.


As though to send him on his way with a thank you, a kingfisher flies from fence post to fence post as Dennis drives his quad bike back from the steep hillsides where Murray has been working alone.

"It's quite significant that someone like Dennis, the farming generation, is cutting out some of his land and thinking about our environment," says Murray.

Murray was averaging 500 plants a day, working 10 days straight in most weathers to complete the planting of trees, which include kanuka, cabbage trees and coprosmas.

"I want to come back in 20 years and see them flourishing."

He would not accept offers of payment from Dennis but was grateful when the farmer gifted him the solid, sharp tree planting spade that he'd loaned, and some other gifts.

"I was totally amazed at his dedication, he did an exceptional job," says Dennis.


When Murray finished the Allisons' planting he did more on a private property at the Wentworth Valley.

As for the mental health benefits of working outdoors for a good cause, Murray says it's been far from lonely.

"You get the fantails that come by and say hello.

"Planting trees gives me a lot of peace, giving back to the Earth, to me it's what made us and what gives us so much."