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Changing the landscape at Tūmai Beach

Close to forty hectares of retired sheep/beef farm north of Dunedin is in the works to become a native bush wonderland thanks to the efforts of a dedicated planting community—and you’re invited to help with the transformation.

There were just four matagouri bushes, flanked by some assorted small trees and shrubs, when the farm park subdivision—divided between sixteen families—was developed at Tūmai Beach. 

Since then, the Tūmai Beach Restoration Trust and the East Otago Catchment Group, under the guidance of ecologist Matt Thomson and his team at Monowai Ecological, have planted and cared for more than 20,000 native trees across the Otago properties as part of their wider Environmental Enhancement Plan.

This Sunday, another 3,500 native trees will be planted by the groups; this time the trees are funded through Trees That Count and the Department of Conservation in honour of Her Majesty Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. 

All New Zealanders are invited to come along and plant a native tree for the Queen’s Jubilee at one of 15 sites nationwide: Sunday’s planting at Tūmai will mark the third of this commemorative series.

“Local residents are involved, as well as the local iwi and community—and this extends to the wider community at large, too,” says Kees Meeuws from the TBRT.

“Planting days have served as a grounding space for us all. There’s a connection, a sense of satisfaction & enjoyment, as well as understanding our contribution to the environment and turangawaewae.”

The land at Tūmai is a key piece of the restoration intended for Te Waipounamu’s east coast, with the EOCG beginning to draw together stakeholders upstream of the beach to help improve overall catchment health.

As Kees notes, ‘ki uta ki tai’, from the mountains to the sea—meaning restoration that takes the big picture into account—is a cornerstone of both groups’ approaches.

“This is one of, from memory, only three developments of this kind (farm park subdivisions) in Aotearoa. 

There’s a responsibility that comes with our stewardship of the land as tiaki, no matter where we’re based in this country: we each have a responsibility to the whenua,” says Kees.

Both groups are dedicated to seeing the unique benefits that native forests can bring to the Otago region. 

“Native trees match perfectly with the existing landscape,” says Hamish McFarlane from the EOCG. 

“To the north and east there are scattered remnants of native forest, and extensive evidence that native bush: mostly ribbonwood, kōwhai, broadleaf, tōtara and matai, were originally thriving.” 

“It makes sense when you refer to the biodiversity that natives bring to the equation,” Kees points out. 

“This space isn’t just about carbon locking, but sustaining life other than our own. Birdsong or the dawn chorus is a goal for Tūmai, along with improving the immediate body of water.”

“Native planting is the vision embraced by the owners for ecological and aesthetic reasons,” Henrik Moller, a retired ecologist and resident at Tūmai, adds. 

“Biodiversity flourishes in the warmer and more fertile lowland sites close to the coast, and this coastal zone was the first to be cleared for farming. The Tūmai restoration project is a step towards restoration.”

The groups have so far received 10,000 native trees through Trees That Count for the Tūmai site: but their enormous vision will require around 97,000 native plants all up.

“To get a sense of what we’re working for, take a walk at Tavora, owned by the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust,” says Hamish. 

“The plantings began in the mid-1990s on an extremely tough site—but now there’s noticeable self-seeding from both plants and bird droppings under the canopy.”

“Everyone needs a project in life, and ours is Tūmai,” says Kees. 

“It’s a space where we get to truly implement tiaki (stewardship) into our lives, and build on our whānau’s connection to the land. 

There is a depth of meaning that we bring to our lives when we take action for something greater than ourselves.”

“For me it’s about community identity and a sustainable legacy,” Henrik notes. 

“Together we will eventually recreate a colourful, noisy and regenerating forest at Tūmai. But in the meantime, the work itself is a reward.”

You’re invited to join the Tumai Beach Restoration Trust and East Otago Catchment Group at Sunday’s planting event. For more details or to register to attend, visit