Nicks Head Station is a significant site in both the history of human settlement in Aotearoa and the future of New Zealand conservation.
Standing as the southern headland of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa / Poverty Bay with dramatic white cliffs towering over stunning blue ocean, many New Zealanders know Young Nicks Head as the first land sighted by Nicholas Young aloft in the rigging of the Endeavour as Lieutenant James Cook and his crew sailed towards the European rediscovery of New Zealand in 1769.
Fewer New Zealanders will know this prominent headland was also the landing place of the Horouta and Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru waka that together brought voyaging Māori settlers to this part of Aotearoa around 400 years before Cook. Even fewer people will know that today this iconic landscape is the location of an award winning landscape restoration and conservation project set within a working agricultural farm.
Nick’s Head Station is now owned by John Griffen, an American financier, who, since purchasing the property in 2002 and subsequently adding Mapiri Station, has engaged in ecological restoration on a grand scale. He is following a master plan developed by the world renowned landscape architect Thomas Woltz, of American landscape architecture practice Nelson Byrd Woltz.
This is conservation writ large with extensive wetlands reflooded, massive numbers of native plants planted, threatened and endangered species reintroduced and all against an encompassing background of predator control.
We were privileged to be invited to visit Nick’s Head Station, on a beautiful East Coast day in January, by the manager of the predator programme, Sandy Bull, a man now in his eighties, a man who has spent a lifetime on the land, and a man who doggedly pursues predators with every tool in the toolbox. Sandy and his team have deployed a full array of both live and kill traps across the property and they target everything with four legs and fur.
Their merciless and relentless crusade against predators with traps and guns has seen bewildering numbers of rats, mice, possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels, rabbits, hares, hedgehogs and feral cats removed from the ecosystem. The results speak for themselves with, among others, a breeding population of brown teal now reestablished and hopefully fernbird to follow.
Seen through a lens of predator control, this staggering project is remarkable for its comprehensiveness. In this, it lays down a challenge to many other projects that claim to be striving for landscape scale predator management on the road towards a predator free future, especially in an agricultural setting.
Sandy is fighting a war of attrition and he knows it, with remarks like, “they just keep coming”. Come they might, but the invaders are arriving in a very dangerous place with a very short life expectancy.
Nick’s Head Station is not only impressive, it is a poster child for the benefits that can flow from environmentally sympathetic foreign investment. It is a place with a proud and important history and on a beautiful East Coast day in January we saw it is also a place with a proud and important future.
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