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Domestic tourists key to sanctuary rebuild

Posted at 11:32am Tuesday 14 Jul, 2020

Ferry services to Tiritiri Matangi Island returned this month after the Covid-19 shutdown, which was welcomed as a sign of normality by the volunteers who piled on board the first boat on July 4.

Until Fullers reassesses the schedule at the end of October, ferries will run to the island on weekends only, instead of five days a week.

Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi (SOTM) chair Carl Hayson says the reduced timetable is because the service is not economical to run while there is no inbound tourism. 

Those visitors bring money into the island and Carl says forecasting indicates a financial downturn of at least 40 percent this year.

The financial climate has also seen the island's plans to build a field centre with accommodation and replica Signal Mast put on hold. Both projects gained resource consent in March. They were projected to cost around $4 million and Carl says around 20 percent of that is already in the bank thanks to the “scrimping and saving” of the voluntary organisation.

However, the rest of that money was to come from grants and sponsorship, both of which are thin on the ground due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, Carl says the group is working on attracting more domestic tourism to the island. Hibiscus Coast residents will hopefully be a major contributor to this, as the ferries depart from Gulf Harbour.

The pest-free island is owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the task of running it is shared between DOC and SOTM volunteers. It is a sanctuary for native wildlife and a chance to see rare species such as the takahe up close.

Two DOC rangers were on the island when lockdown happened, and had to remain there for six weeks, unable to leave. Sea shuttles brought in food for the pair. During that time, Carl says the rangers noticed that the birds, used to visitors coming and going, seemed to be aware something was different and came a lot closer – even kiwi.

He says now that volunteers are back on the island, they have plenty to do, as track and building maintenance is behind schedule.

“We have a lot to catch up on, and we are expecting a difficult year as we recover and rebuild from all this,” he says.

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