Sinclair Wetlands – Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau
The Sinclair Wetlands is a 315 hectare wetland area comprising numerous shallow peaty lagoons, a maze of waterways and two islands fringed by harakeke (flax), raupō (bullrush), mānia (sedge grasses) and karamū (coprosma shrub species).
This rare combination provides an ideal feeding, breeding and escape habitat for many species of birds and native fish.
Just fifty kilometers south of Dunedin in Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand) lies the fertile Taieri plain, a once vast wetland area of abundant forests and wildlife. Today, due to the drainage and clearing of the land for farming, only a small but precious representation of the original wetland survives. Nestled between Lakes Waihola and Waipori this area known, as the Sinclair Wetlands or, by its Māori name, Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau („the settlement of Tukiauau“), contains habitat essential for the survival of many bird and fish species. Described as the most important privately owned wetland in New Zealand, it is also an area rich in the history and traditions of Ngāi Tahu, the tāngata whenua (people) of this area.
Peace and tranquility reign supreme in these unique wetlands where the only sounds you’re likely to hear are the songs and calls of the many birds who have made these wetlands their home. Several kilometres of well-maintained walking tracks make access easy and areas of interest are highlighted by clearly marked signs.
Visitors are free to stop by and wander around the grounds at any time during daylight hours. Guided tours are available by pre-arrangement for tour parties, clubs or school groups.
A modern Visitor Centre overlooking the wetlands provides the perfect starting place for those who want to explore what this area has to offer. There is a reception and lecture area available for tour groups or for those wanting to schedule a meeting or workshop in a relaxed environment. Take time to stop in and watch the introductory video which offers an insight into the history, the habitat and the wildlife of the wetlands. Staff are on hand most days during working hours to provide information or assistance to visitors.
Waterfowl dominate the bird population. Kuruwhengu (Shoveler), tētē (grey teal), pūtakitaki (paradise shelduck), pārera (grey ducks), pāpako (New Zealand scaup), mallard, Canada geese and black swans are all permanent residents of the wetlands. The pukeko/pakura (swamp hen) is also conspicuous and the more secretive bittern and crake are attracted to the area by the abundance of tuna (native eels), galaxiids including inaka (whitebait), the taiwharu (giant kōkupu) and introduced perch on which they feed. A well-timed visit may also be rewarded by the sight of a pair of mātā (fernbirds) nesting in the grasses.
The Sinclair Wetlands and neighbouring lakes Waihola and Waipori are all that remains of the once vast Taieri Plain wetlands drained last century to make way for farming. This wetland area only survives today because of the vision of local Taieri resident, Horrie Sinclair, who purchased the wetlands in 1960. Aware of its value Horrie chose to let it revert to its natural state as a habitat for wildlife. In saving this precious remnant of our natural heritage he has shown us just what can be achieved.
The wetlands were returned to Ngāi Tahu in 1998 as part of their Treaty settlement with the Crown. Horrie passed away in 1998 but his vision lives on. The Sinclair Wetlands are protected in perpetuity under a Queen Elizabeth II National Trust Open Space Covenant and by the commitment of Te Runanga o Ngâi Tahu to the sustainable use and management of the wetlands and their resources. Ngâi Tahu and the community are working together on plans for the ongoing restoration of the wetlands including the reforestation of the wetlands two islands. Their dream is that in the future native trees, such as the mighty kahikatea, may once more grow here, bringing with it, forest birds and animals. With this new partnership, the long-term security of this rare wetland habitat is now guaranteed.
It is the hope of Ngâi Tahu that the wetlands will be a living memorial not only to Horrie Sinclair, but also to the Ngâi Tahu ancestors who once walked these lands.