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No golfer has ever had a bad round at Wairakei Golf and Sanctuary. Yes, they may have had an off day with the clubs, but this course is about far more than golf.
Cool, fresh air sweeps away the rigours of daily life, while the surrounding native bush distracts from any deficit in poor putting performance. More importantly, this lush location plays a crucial part in growing our kiwi bird population. I'm discovering exactly what is so special about this unique golf course couples with a wildlife sanctuary.
Like many golfers before me, I have been lucky enough to play Wairakei and spot deer, guinea fowl and native birdlife. But the 14 kiwi chicks at Wairakei are not so easy to find. We were lucky enough to spend some time with Will Kahu from 'Save the Kiwi' and learn more about the sanctuary and his job, while potentially getting up close and personal with New Zealand's national icon.
Pioneered by Wairakei owner Gary Lane, Wairakei’s sanctuary is enclosed by a two-metre high, and five kilometre long ‘Xcluder’ fence. The fence aims to keep out predators like stoats, which are among the biggest threat to kiwi chick survival in the wild. Thanks to its partnership with Save the Kiwi, the Wairakei golf course has become an important place for kiwi chicks to grow big enough (up to 1 kg) to ward off predators that also include ferrets, rats and dogs. Kiwi eggs are transported to Crombie Lockwood Kiwi Burrow, a dedicated kiwi incubation, hatching and brooding centre. Once they have found their footing, at around three weeks old, some of the chicks are released into bush areas surrounding the fairways.
Will, works tirelessly to ensure these kiwi chicks have the best chance to survive. In the wild, the odds stack against them - only a 5% survival rate. He tells us he's pretty tired after an overnight kiwi catching mission in Taranaki but is eager to get the kiwi chick’s regular health checks done.
We swapped out a wedge for a Tr4 and aerial, a radio receiver that is used with an antenna to locate our little friends today.
The beacon sounded and we were looking into scrub only inches from the fairway. This was far too close to where I had hooked my ball in the previous round. Following a couple of unsuccessful attempts, Will locked onto some hollow logs and blackberry bushes - prime kiwi real estate - and managed to sound one out.
After a bit of cat and mouse, he swooped up the kiwi chick and was cradling our adorable little friend in his arms.
Mission complete, we were grinning ear to ear. There is something confounding about coming face to face with our enigmatic nocturnal treasure, in the middle of the day, a few steps from Wairakei's iconic par five 14th tee box.
It was humbling to see first-hand the Save the Kiwi team helping repopulate kiwi in New Zealand.
Wairakei's commitment to the cause highlights how golf can be more than a sport and scorecard but play a vital role in the environment.
Wairakei is already an excellent golf course.
Now, knowing what I know, it's not my putting performance that I'm worried about, it's going left into the trees.
We can all help to save kiwi by donating our time or our money and by making sure our pets don't harm kiwi.
There are other ways, too. Find your niche and take action to help protect these unique birds.
Learn more about how you can help kiwi, our national icon, thrive
Autumn is the perfect time for walking and biking journeys, long soaks in geothermal hot pools and lakeside wining and dining over lingering golden sunsets late into the night.