Orokonui Uncategorized

Getting groovy for conservation

Recently the visitor’s centre played host to a gathering of a different sort of wildlife, with the St Margarets College disco themed ball. After some research online the organising students found that no other venue stood our quite like Orokonui.

Over the years Orokonui has hosted everything from weddings and concerts, to corporate meetings and birthdays. But we believe this may be the first ever event at Orokonui to have a light up disco floor.

With the café chairs cleared out there was plenty of space for the 180 students to dance, chat, and hang. The use of the classroom also allowed for a dedicated photo space, perfect for capturing the variety of incredible outfits.

While the light up dance floor and other decorations made the space look amazing, students noted that nature had done the best job decorating. There were even times when the sunset over the valley and silver peaks even upstaged the disco floor.

Most importantly as with any good party, there was abundant delicious food to keep dancers fuelled into the night. All the kai for this event was crafted by our stellar café team. They worked hard and managed to pull off an amazing spread with not just enough food for all, but with something for every dietary requirement as well.

Despite the size of the event the student organisers were able to focus on enjoying the evening thanks to our events team taking care of everything else. After the event they had this to say about the experience.

“Amazing service! From the initial visit, to the ball day and, even post ball, 200% all throughout. It was super easy to work with the wonderful team at Orokonui they made things on my end so so much easier than I could’ve ever imagined. They helped facilitate and allow my vision to come to life.”

Attending the evening was also the funnest way the students could support conservation, with all proceeds of events like these going straight back to helping us help wildlife thrive.

To host your next event at Orokonui get in touch with us by emailing


Local Businesses Secure Future of Environmental Education at Orokonui

The future looks bright for school visits to Orokonui, thanks to a group of local corporate sponsors stepping up to fund the Ecosanctuary’s beloved environmental education programme.

Port Otago, Wenita Forest Products, Pioneer Energy, and Viridian Glass have all made multi-year commitments to support the programme, which delivers enriching wildlife experiences for more than 6,000 students, from early childhood to tertiary level, each year.

 Orokonui Ecosanctuary General Manager Amanda Symon says the funding means the ecosanctuary can continue providing accessible experiences to schools at a subsided rate and complements an existing sponsorship with Oceana Gold which provides free entry and transport to the ecosanctuary for 500 students each year. “We’re so pleased to have multi-year sponsorship agreements in place with these organisations. It gives the programme certainty for the future and allows us to focus on connecting young people with the environment, rather than worrying about money.”

The education programme at Orokonui Ecosanctuary was established in 2009 and more than 75,000 young people have participated in hands-on conservation experiences since then.  In 2022, long-term funding for the programme from the Ministry of Education unexpectedly ceased, leaving the programme hanging in the balance.  “We were really disappointed by that, particularly in the light of the biodiversity and climate crises that we’re facing. It’s more important than ever to ensure young people are connected to nature and empowered to care for the environment. They’re our next generation of conservation heroes.”

Port Otago Chief Executive Kevin Winders says getting in behind the education programme is a good fit for the company, given its focus on supporting local community activity, particularly those involving young people, and awareness around climate change. “The education team at Orokonui do a fabulous job – and on the smell of an oily rag. Our contribution helps them get out with the students, delivering their highly valued programme to our local schools.”

For David Cormack, Wenita Forest Products Chief Executive, the new sponsorship is a great addition to the local environmental initiatives that the company already supports.  “Wenita’s sponsorship of the Orokonui education programme reflects our commitment to backing local biodiversity initiatives and environmental education – it’s a natural fit.”  

When the opportunity to support Orokonui arose, Pioneer Energy CEO Fraser Jonker felt that it aligned well with their vision. “Our goal is to create a better future through sustainable energy. We look to achieve this not only by developing sustainable energy assets but by feeding profits back into our communities through our owners the Central Lakes Trust. Our focus is on long term benefits, and this starts with investing in our youth and our communities.”  

Viridian Glass has contributed to the wider work of the sanctuary for several years now, but GM Matt Kearsley says he is happy to focus their sponsorship on education, where the funds were currently needed most. “We are happy to be a part of such a valuable place that offers amazing learning opportunities for our tamariki and whānau. We want to see Orokonui Ecosanctuary prosper for many years to come.”

Ms Symon said that while the ecosanctuary covered a significant portion of its conservation work from visitor revenue, it was still reliant on grants, donations, and local sponsorships to fund the remainder.  “As a not-for-profit organisation, we are extremely fortunate to have such strong support from our local community. They believe in what we do, and we’re humbled by their generosity, every day.”


Māori Hill School Taonga of Orokonui Series

When ākonga/students from room 5 at Māori Hill School visited in May, they were amazed by the incredible taonga/treasures that live in Orokonui. They wanted to share what they learned during their visit and researching at school, so others could learn about and be inspired by the taonga of Orokonui as well.

They worked to produce this amazing series of recordings about five of the taonga that call Orokonui home. You can listen to them all here.


Taking time to learn more about tuatara

The warm summer nights provided the perfect opportunity for tuatara monitoring to take place. Tuatara were first re-introduced to roam freely in Orokonui in 2012 as part of a partnership with Ngāti Koata, kaitiaki of the tuatara on Takapourewa/Stephen’s Island in the Marlborough Sounds, and with the support of mana whenua of Orokonui, Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki. Since then, we have had several exciting milestones, from finding tuatara spreading through new parts of Orokonui, to the first sightings of hatchlings in early 2020. 

Researcher Scott Jarvie and Orokonui Educator Taylor try to pattern match one of the Orokonui tuatara to identify the individual.

Monitoring the tuatara population is an important part of understanding how these precious taonga are going at Orokonui and what work needs to be done to facilitate their return to this landscape. Orokonui has been lucky to have the support and expertise of the University of Otago, and now the Otago Regional Council, in monitoring these incredible reptiles. 

On one warm night in late January 2023, 17 individuals were captured and measured, a new record for a single night at the sanctuary! Some of the individuals measured have doubled in weight since release, an encouraging sign.  

With tuatara though, conservation requires patience. Despite breeding occurring it will be a long time before tuatara could be considered common in Orokonui. Requiring 10-20 years to reach breeding age, with eggs that can take longer than 18 months to hatch, growing a tuatara population is a marathon rather than a sprint. 

A tuatara tick sits on the skin of an Orokonui tuatara. A long shared evolutionary history has made these ticks as vulnerable as their hosts. 

One cool observation was the presence of tuatara ticks on several individuals. These specialist parasites are rarer than their already rare hosts. In some other translocations ticks have been lost, but only time will tell if they establish in Orokonui. This is a good reminder of the need to protect all wildlife, not just our beautiful birds. 

You can read more about the history of Tuatara at Orokonui in this article written by researcher Alison Cree

To see tuatara at Orokonui it is still best to visit the grasslands enclosure on a warm day.


A cacophony of kākā chicks

If you’ve visited Orokonui lately you may have noticed the cacophony of young kākā playing and making a racket across the sanctuary. This is a result of another successful kākā breeding season at Orokonui.

This season 15 chicks fledged from five known nests within the sanctuary. Three of these were in our special nest boxes and three in the cavities of large kāpuka/broadleaf trees.  There may also be nests that we didn’t detect; these could be in cavities near the tops of trees, or in less frequented areas of the sanctuary. An increasing number of sightings of unbanded birds suggests at least a few chicks were fledged from these hidden retreats. 

A measurement of the upper beak of the kākā tells us the sex of the bird

It can be up to 81 days from the time a kākā hatches to when it leaves the nest, so we are sure many kākā parents are feeling a deep sense of relief at this time of year!

One set of caring kākā parents has quite a remarkable story. The two kākā, known as Mr and Mrs Willowbank, spent 10 years in an aviary in Christchurch before being released at Orokonui. During their time in captivity they had stopped breeding and it was thought best to give them a taste of the wild life. This year they raised two chicks in a tree cavity near the Pōkākā Loop Track in the sanctuary. With lifespans of 30 years or longer, hopefully they will have many more sets of chicks in the future. 

Bands help us identify kākā, and facilitate research

Look out at the feeders for birds marked with red primary leg bands as this is the colour that designates this year’s cohort of chicks. You can help us monitor that kākā population by recording your kākā sightings (at Orokonui, home, or elsewhere) in the Orokonui kākā database.

To report sightings head here

Remember, too, if any of these cheeky rascals turn up to your place please avoid feeding them human foods like nuts as these can make them very unwell, and teach them bad behaviours. Trust us, they don’t need anymore help with that!

After a short excursion being banded, weighed, measured and checked over. Young kākā are out back in the nest to finish their development.