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Milestone piling at Pukaha

Construction on stage 1 of Pukaha Te Wananga Taiao is due for completion at the end of the month. PHOTOS/TOM TAYLOR

Story by Tom Taylor

The foundations are nearly laid for Pukaha National Wildlife Centre to welcome a whole new era of learning.

Upon completion in October 2022, Pukaha’s new 916m2 wananga [learning centre] will be able to host students and teachers overnight.

On Tuesday, workers installed 11-metre screw pilings diagonally into the ground upon which the whare kai [dining room] would rise.

The whare kai will seat 100 people, who could look directly over the bush while eating.

“The height of it makes you feel like you are sitting right out into the bush,” Pukaha general manager Emily Court said.

Project manager Lester Wolfreys said it was the first use of screw pilings in Tararua or Wairarapa.

The screw pilings allowed for construction of the building upon soft ground.

Workers from specialist company Piletech had come from Auckland to Mt Bruce for this part of the project.

“They’re the only ones that can do it,” Wolfreys said.

Masterton company Capital Precut Solutions manufactured the framing of the building and was installing cassette flooring onsite – also the first time this technology had been used in the region.

The wananga included an accommodation wing with 40 beds: eight rooms containing four bunk beds and four serviced rooms with private bathrooms.

A wharenui could sleep extra people, as well as providing an area for education.

The wharenui is a similar size to Te Kohanga-Whakawhaiiti O Te Iwi at Pahiatua Marae.

Wolfreys said the ability for people to stay overnight would set Pukaha apart from other wildlife reserves.

“This is not only a new thing for Pukaha but a new thing for the region and one of the very few places in New Zealand where you can stay overnight on a reserve where there are native birds.”

Pukaha would start guided nighttime tours to coincide with the new centre’s opening, with a new nocturnal boardwalk opening next week.

“It’s a whole new experience so that the learning and knowledge of the forest will be able to be shared with more and more people, Wolfreys said.”

The early stages of the design had not included the wharenui, but Court said it was now an essential part of the development.

“No doubt about it, it has got bigger than the original design concept,” Court said.

Stage 1 of the project – the foundation and flooring – was scheduled for completion at the start of August.

Tararua District Council was working through the resource consents for the second and final stage of the project, due for completion in October 2022.

Carl Rongonui [left] and Tamai Nicholson work on carvings for the new wharenui.
Council senior building manager Bob Dunn said the consents had been split into two different stages to allow the project to start while the weather was fine.

“You can imagine all these piles here if the weather was crappy,” Dunn said.

The original project budget of $4 million had since grown to $4.6 million due to design changes after consultation with different parties including Rangitane and educationalists.

Pukaha had accessed a $2.5 million Provincial Growth Fund grant, allowing construction to start in April.

The council had also allocated a $1 million loan towards the project, allowing construction to continue.

The Pukaha team would now focus its energy on a fundraising drive to access the remaining funds needed. The centre launches its fundraiser programme with a dinner on July 30.

“It’s a mixed programme with community fundraising, as well as business-targeted fundraising, sponsorship, those sorts of opportunities,” Court said.

The centre would also ask community groups to consider taking on a target to fundraise on the centre’s behalf.

“We’ve got quite a mixture of different ways that people can get involved, from a little $50-$100 sponsorship of a small piece, through to potentially naming and sponsoring a bunk room.”

Pukaha would identify the building costs of each area within the learning centre. A business could then choose to sponsor a particular area and attach its name to it.

“The thing with sponsorship is that it’s really hard to offer something that is tangible, that you can have your name on and a sense of ownership. That’s what we’re trying to achieve through the business sponsorship opportunities.”

Court said the fundraising drive for the learning centre would not interfere with its regular fundraising campaigns to continue conservation work within the forest.

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