Ōtukaikino Wildlife Management Reserve is managed as a Living Memorial - Mau Mahara. Students can learn about wetlands and the restoration of Wilson’s Swamp, and find out about the cultural heritage of the area.


Published 2003, reviewed 2007

Learning outcomes for this teaching resource

Ōtukaikino is a 13 ha freshwater wetland reserve within the city of Christchurch that is being wonderfully restored. It is one of the few remaining original wetlands that were once common around Christchurch.

Ōtukaikino Wildlife Management Reserve is managed as a Living Memorial - Mau Mahara. In a field trip, students can learn about wetlands and the restoration of Wilson’s Swamp, and find out about the cultural heritage of the area.

The Living Memorial – Mau Mahara

Rohe: Iwi links

  • Ōtukaikino is significant for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and especially appropriate for a living memorial.
  • This wetland was once used for burial preparation and is designated a wahi tapu site.
  • The water, vegetation and mud were used by tohunga (priests) for embalming purposes.
  • Mau mahara means “remembering you”.
  • For these reasons, it is important that food is eaten only within the grassed area by the car park.
  • Please do not eat within the memorial site.

Key features and current issues

Since 1992, in a unique partnership between the Department and Lamb and Hayward (funeral directors), supported by Te Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga, the area is being restored and managed as a ‘living memorial’.

A restoration plan (September 2000) guides the work on the reserve and Department of Conservation staff oversee all the work.  There is a significant opportunity for community involvement to help restore one of the few remnant wetlands close to Christchurch. 

The natural environment

Ōtukaikino is a small wetland of 13 hectares that is located at the end of the northern motorway on the outskirts of Christchurch.

It is a remnant of an area of former swamp that dominated the Christchurch landscape in the mid nineteenth century.

Ōtukaikino is a freshwater wetland, and would have once been full of native plants and wildlife.  Such a wetland is described as a plant community adapted to growing in situations where the freshwater table is close to or above the surface.  It need not be large, and the water is seldom stagnant.  

Both the Department of Conservation and the Christchurch City Council are focussed on restoring wetland areas to their former state.  Projects such as Styx Mill basin ponds, the Wigram East retention basin and Travis Swamp have been successful in attracting native birds back to Christchurch waterways, thanks to the enhancement projects undertaken by the Christchurch City Council.

Notable fauna at Ōtukaikino includes – the pūkeko, shoveller /kuruwhengu, common waterfowl (mallard, grey duck) the Australasian bittern, marsh crake, long and short-finned eel/tuna.

Native snails, common bullies and a variety of aquatic insects are increasing in numbers as plantings increase.  Exotic plant species are being gradually replaced by natives, with the aim of restoring the wetland site as closely as possible to what it would once have been.  Some native species have managed to survive – raupō, toetoe, tall tussock sedges (pūkio), blechnum fern /kiokio, cabbage trees/ti kōuka, kōhūhu and karamū.  Other natives being planted include kaikahikatea, kānuka, tōtara, mataī, ribbonwood and lancewood/horoeka. 

Wetlands, although a complex mosaic of habitats, can be zoned in accordance to their distance from open water.

Zone 1:  Kahikatea swamp forest

  • A type of lowland forest
  • Tall trunks; not prone to flooding
  • Often many climbers
  • Cabbage trees are common.

Zone 2:  Fringing trees and shrubs

  • Prone to periodic flooding therefore species must be adaptable to variations in soil moisture
  • Hardy shrubs and trees e.g. mānuka and mingimingi
  • Species need to be able to withstand flooding of roots e.g. Carex secta/pūkio, New Zealand flax, toetoe.

Zone 3:  Shrubs, toetoe, flax etc.  

  • Species need to be able to withstand flooding of roots e.g. Carex secta/pūkio, New Zealand flax, toetoe.

Zone 4:  Water-edge vegetation

  • Species able to survive fluctuations in water levels e.g. Carex secta/pūkio.

All new plants are genetically sourced, as much as possible from the original native plants in the reserve, or other close sources.

Much is said of the ecological value of wetlands, but there are aesthetic values too.  These are considerable and uniquely New Zealand in character.

Resource material

Specific resource material

  • Topographical map NZMS 260M35 Christchurch 1:50,000
  • Ōtukaikino Restoration Plan, September 2000 Department of Conservation.  Includes some aerial photos and a lot of suitable plants.
  • Ōtukaikino – Department of Conservation pamphlet – colour pictures and map.
  • The Living Memorial – Mau Mahara – Lamb and Hayward pamphlet
  • Riparian zones – A guide to the protection of Canterbury’s rivers, streams and wetlands – Canterbury Regional Council.

General resource material

Attractions and facilities

  • Wetland flora and fauna
  • Cultural significance.

Learn more about visiting Ōtukaikino.

Note: A public toilet is available near the grassed area. These are suitable for wheelchairs. Eat food within the grassed area by the car park where there is plenty of room for picnicking. Do not eat within the memorial site.No drinking or washing water is provided on site; there are no rubbish tins - take any rubbish home with you.

The cultural environment

As well as being significant to Ngāi Tahu, the reserve is also important to the Wilson descendants of Robert and Margaret Wilson, the first settlers on the land in 1854.  Descendants remained there until 1961 when the land was acquired for the building of the northern motorway.

Over the years much of the original native vegetation around the wetland disappeared through farming and the development of infrastructure, such as the motorway.

Following a highly successful concept overseas, in which living memorials are helping to regenerate native bush and establish whole new forests, a unique partnership was established between DOC and Lamb and Hayward Ltd (funeral directors), supported by Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga who chose the site.  The idea is to plant a New Zealand native plant to commemorate the passing of a loved one. 

For each funeral they conduct, Lamb and Hayward donate funds to the Department of Conservation.  Planting is undertaken when soil and weather conditions are suitable.  There are no burials on this reserve and specific plants are not dedicated to any one person.

Each year a memorial service is held on site for friends and families to attend and view the plantings dedicated to those who have died over the last year.  Each family of the bereaved gets a certificate to record the planting.  There is a twenty minute boardwalk and track, with sitting areas along the way to enable people to stop and reflect. 

Much of the work has been done by community groups, overseen by the Department of Conservation.

Groups include:

  • Task Force Green workers
  • Periodic Detention workers and supervisors
  • Conservation Corps
  • Work experience students
  • Women prisoners
  • Conservation volunteers
  • School students
  • Local rūnanga members
  • Keen individuals.

These people have cleared weeds, removed willows, constructed bridges and boardwalks, and planted and cared for native vegetation.


Specific environmental education at Ōtukaikino

Education involves the integration of three key dimensions:

  • Education IN the environment
  • Education ABOUT the environment
  • Education FOR the environment

A balanced environmental education programme addresses all three dimensions (p.14, MOE Guidelines).

Education in the environment

Suggested activities

  • The reserve is open at all times for the general public to enjoy the tranquil setting, however, no dogs are permitted, even on leashes, because of potential disturbance to wildlife.  A visit to this reserve could be combined with another to the Groynes.
  • Take a walk around the reserve, remaining on the boardwalk or marked track at all times.  Try not to talk at all.  Sit quietly, pause and reflect.  Note down what you see, hear, smell, and feel.  Write a poem or haiku about your senses.
  • Draw sketches of the plant life you can see as you walk around.  Can you identify any of them? 
  • Can you find evidence of the four zones of wetlands?  Take photos, draw sketches as evidence.
  • Write a list of adjectives and adverbs that describe what you see and feel about Ōtukaikino that start with each of the following letters – MAU MAHARA (remembering you)
  • Sticking to the track and observing from the boardwalk, what evidence of native life can you see?

Education about the environment

This dimension encompasses knowledge about and understanding of the natural and cultural heritage of the environment at Ōtukaikino.

Cultural awareness, economic activities, political decisions, ecological understanding and health and safety issues are all factors that influence education about the environment.

It may be useful, prior to your visit; to use these factors as areas of focus for study, using the information provided in the resource as well as the activities listed below.

Suggested activities

Cultural awareness
  • Investigate early Māori death rituals.  Write a newspaper article on the process.
  • Much has been said of the difference between Pakeha/European funerals and Māori tangi.  Write a script for a short play that shows the two different processes.
Economic activities
  • What’s in it for Lamb and Hayward?  What do they stand to gain from being involved with the Ōtukaikino Reserve?  Interview a manager from Lamb and Hayward Ltd. about the economic costs and benefits.
Ecological nderstanding
  • Design a fact sheet on wetlands, outlining the flora and fauna to be found there.
  • Using the topographical map NZMS 260M35, Christchurch, draw a précis map using Grid Reference corners 8251, 8254, 7951 and 7954.
    • Enlarge this area by 100%.
    • Inside your titled, scaled, north direction précis map locate the following:
      1. Belfast township
      2. Main North Road (Highway 74)
      3. State Highway 1
      4. The Ōtukaikino Reserve
      5. North railway line
      6. Ōtukaikino Creek
      7. The feature at 801523
      8. Marshland Road, Dickey’s Road
      9. Waimakariri River

Political understanding

Find out about the Department of Conservation.  Check out this website

Health and safety issues

  • It can get very hot in the reserve.  Design an information package that informs classmates as to how they can make safe choices while on the field trip.
  • Identify the risks in the environment.  Plan a strategy for the behaviour of someone who gets lost in the wetland reserve.

Education for the environment

Education for the environment is based on students’ knowledge and understanding about the environment and their practical experiences in the environment.

Education for the environment encompasses developing a sense of environmental responsibility and a knowledge of how people can minimise their impact on the environment. All three aspects are interdependent.

Suggested activities

  • Make an advertisement for television, radio or newspaper that informs Christchurch’s citizens about the need to preserve and restore our wetlands.  You will need to develop a sense of responsibility amongst people for the wetland’s restoration.
  • Organise your school to get involved with work on the reserve.  You may like to volunteer to help with clearing weeds, construction or planting native vegetation.  Write a speech as the organiser, to mobilise your classmates into action.
  • In the USA it is possible to adopt sections of the highway and be responsible for their cleanliness.  Organise a class letter to parliament that suggests New Zealand adopt this too.  Include evidence of impact on the environment that you have seen at Ōtukaikino and State Highway 1 boundary.
  • Many people don’t value wetlands as an aesthetic resource or even for their ecological value.  These people see them as a child safety hazard or public health concerns and want them filled in.  Conduct a series of interviews with people who have a variety of viewpoints and explain how and why people view the Christchurch wetlands differently, and the consequence of this.
  • Record your findings on film for a short documentary that profiles people’s different viewpoints and showcases the success the Department of Conservation and Christchurch City Council have had with restoration projects.  The last 30 seconds of your film should be your viewpoint.  Do you think wetlands like Ōtukaikino are a valuable resource to preserve and sustain?
Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   28 Worcester Boulevard
Christchurch 8013
Postal Address:   Private Bag 11089
Christchurch 8013
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