Black stilt/kakī release.
Image: Liz Brown | DOC


Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is an initiative to better protect the iconic Mackenzie Basin/Te Manahuna’s unique landscapes, flora and fauna.


Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands will foster active protection of significant parts of the Mackenzie Basin to build a network of interconnected sites so species such as kakī, wrybill and indigenous tussocklands continue to thrive and be an intrinsic part of the Mackenzie landscape into the future.

What's special about the Drylands

The Drylands in the Mackenzie Basin are some of the most under-protected and threatened environments in Aotearoa New Zealand. Within these iconic landscapes are hundreds of threatened, at risk and endangered indigenous species of plants and animals, including seven species of lizards and skinks, over 100 plant species and several fish species.  The banded dotterel, wrybill, and kakī are all significant species that need these dryland habitats to thrive into the future.

Many of these species are endemic to the Mackenzie basin, or specific habits within the basin, or are dryland species within their national stronghold. The indigenous ecosystems present have evolved through a history of glaciation along with more recently human induced modification. The Basin floor represents the greatest area and diversity of historically rare ecosystems of any part of New Zealand.

Tū Te Rakiwhānoa is a central figure in the stories of Ngāi Tahu who created the waterways and valleys that emanate from Aoraki/Mt Cook and spread through to Piopiotahi/Milford Sound.

It is Tū Te Rakiwhānoa whose wairua (spirit) protects the plants and animals of this landscape and ensures the qualities of its waters.

Collaborating to protect the Drylands

For more than a decade environmental organisations and advocates have been taking action to address the impact of land use change in the Basin. These efforts were an important early contribution to raising the national awareness of the loss of natural values in this iconic landscape.

Forest & Bird and Mackenzie Guardians have a longstanding history of engagement in the Basin to successfully protect many areas of land with significant dryland ecosystems. Similarly, the Environmental Defence Society has been leading environmental policy in the region for many years, including a recent exploration into collaborative tools to protect working landscapes in New Zealand – a central pillar of this project. In 2013 the community recognised the pressures on the Mackenzie Basin’s landscape and ecosystems and agreed on a shared vision for it which needed Manawhenua, the community, and the Crown to work together to realise.

In seeking support from the Crown for that vision, the basin floor was identified as the key area of focus for collaboration.

Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is a key way for that collaboration to deliver on the vision, with each of the parties bringing their long experience and deep expertise in land management to the project.

It was designed by the Crown and Manawhenua working in Treaty partnership as equals, and provides a pathway for the Crown, Manawhenua and the rural community to work towards achieving the kaupapa.

For its part the Crown is honouring the mana of Tū Te Rakiwhānoa by adding five pieces of Crown land, totalling around 11,800 hectares, to the approximately 19,500 of existing conservation land and private covenants, to make the total area of legally protected land 31,300 hectares on the Basin floor.

The five pieces of land are at Ōhau Downs, Simons Pass, and Twin Peaks stations and in the Tasman Riverbed.

In addition, a further almost 15,000 hectares of neighbouring NZ Defence Force land, the Tekapo Military Training Ground, is already being managed in keeping with its ecological and landscape values, and will contribute to the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands kaupapa as the Crown agencies who manage land in the basin work in unison.

With the commitment of these Crown properties to the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands kaupapa, the Crown is establishing an initial platform to which others can contribute.  

Nature knows no boundaries, and this is especially true in the Mackenzie Basin where working together across those boundaries is the only way to ensure the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa drylands thrive.

Treaty partnership with Manawhenua

From here, Government will work in Treaty partnership with Manawhenua, and alongside the rural community to secure an enduring network of dryland ecosystems which are valued and protected regardless of land tenure and boundaries. Landowners are critical to the project’s success - they hold the key to unlocking how to achieve protection on private land.

Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is not intended to be, about new rules, regulations, or restrictions (although they have their place). Rather, it is about the people and stakeholders of the Mackenzie Basin choosing to do the right thing for nature while at the same time doing right by each other.

Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is more than a vision for preserving natural heritage; it is also about respecting traditional lifestyles while delivering on aspirations for a thriving economy and living cultural expression in one of New Zealand’s truly iconic locations. 

Background of the initiative

Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is an outcome from a $2.6 million 2018 Budget appropriation for “Enhancing Biodiversity by Supporting Community Conservation in the Mackenzie Basin”.

The initiative recognises that:

  • the unique indigenous vegetation and habitats at lower altitudes have been affected by the way people have used the land – initially by burning indigenous vegetation and later through agricultural intensification, cultivation, and irrigation.
  • Concern has been expressed over many years about the on-going loss of these habitats and efforts have been made by Non-Governmental Organisations and others to slow this decline.
  • The community agreed in 2013 (the Mackenzie Agreement) that many areas of the basin could be protected as a working landscape, through joint mechanisms for that protection with some areas in the basin needing higher levels of legal protection for conservation purposes.
  • Manawhenua have a long-held desire to work with the Crown in Treaty partnership to realise their aspirations for ecological and cultural outcomes in the Mackenzie Basin.

In its initial phase, the focus of the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands has been working with Manawhenua in Treaty Partnership to co-design the wider collaborative effort which will be needed.

The new land coming into the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands initiative is the result of a Nature Heritage Fund (NHF) purchase of part of Ōhau Downs high country station; the transfer of management of the Tasman Riverbed from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) to DOC; and completion of tenure reviews for Simons Pass and Twin Peaks pastoral leases. In addition, the landowners of Simons Pass have also agreed to the sale of freehold land to become conservation land. While DOC is the lead agency for Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands, it has been working very closely with LINZ who have been instrumental in securing the five pieces of land newly protected land.

It brings an additional 11,800 ha into legal protection to join the existing 19,500 ha already protected as conservation land or by private covenant in the basin.

A further almost 15,000 ha of New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) land is managed in keeping with its ecological and landscape values. 

The next phase of TTRD will be for Government (DOC/LINZ/NZDF) to work in Treaty partnership with Manawhenua, and alongside the rural community to secure an enduring network of dryland ecosystems which are valued and protected regardless of land tenure and boundaries. 

What does the transfer of land to DOC mean can and can’t happen for these new conservation properties?

The land now joining the public conservation land will be subject to all the legal protections conferred by the Conservation Act 1987 and its reserve classification. There is no additional legal protection conferred by Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands for these lands or any others in the basin, but it is expected over time farmers will voluntarily protect the more ecologically important areas.

Is the addition of 11,800 on top of existing protection in the Mackenzie Basin?

Yes, it is additional to approximately 19,500ha of existing Public Conservation Land and privately covenanted land which is already legally protected.

The statutory protection for each bit of land is determined by the Conservation Act 1987 and its reserve classification.

  • Tasman Riverbed: The Tasman riverbed land transferred from LINZ will initially be designated stewardship land while the Crown/ Manawhenua project team determines a classification in Treaty partnership.
  • Ōhau Downs: Ōhau Downs will initially be designated stewardship land while the Crown/ Manawhenua project team determines a classification in Treaty partnership.
  • Simons Pass: Simon’s Pass tenure review and freehold lands will initially be designated stewardship land while the Crown/ Manawhenua project team determines a classification in Treaty partnership.
  • Twin Peaks: The outwash plain on Twin Peaks is one of the last two remaining examples in the Mackenzie Basin of a glacially-derived ecosystem which hosts a very diverse range of rare and threatened plants. As such, it warrants the highest possible legal protection and has been given a Scientific Reserve classification. The remainder of the Twin Peaks property (the Wether Range) will have a stewardship land designation while the Crown/ Manawhenua project team determines a classification in Treaty partnership.

Are these properties sufficient to protect the Mackenzie Basin ecosystems?

The land in legal protection is distributed across the Basin floor and represents a range of dryland ecosystems such as braided rivers, outwash surfaces, and moraines. While it is a good start towards a network of protected ecosystems, it is not sufficiently connected to provide enduring habitat security for such species as wrybill, kakī and indigenous tussocklands. If these species are to have an enduring presence in this landscape, further protected habitat will need to be available to them. The Basin’s braided rivers are the lifeblood of the area and connect many dryland ecosystems from the mountains to the sea. With the Crown working as one, LINZ and DOC are committed to protecting this river network through TTRD to enhance this connectivity.

What is the significance of the NZ Defence Force engagement with Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands?

The NZ Defence Force’s Tekapo Military Training Area comprises almost15,000ha which has been managed, within the limitations of its underlying purpose, to protect its ecological and landscape values for many years. NZDF has committed to supporting the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands kaupapa. Along with DOC and LINZ, this means all parts of the Crown are working together in Te Manahuna/Mackenzie to protect these special ecosystems and landscapes.

How will protection of enough connected ecosystem be achieved?

By starting off the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands mosaic, we are opening up the opportunity for others to volunteer their own pieces within the area that the community told us was important in 2013 – and remains so to this day. Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is not intended to be about new rules, regulations, or restrictions (although they do have their place). Rather, it is about the farmers and land-managers of the Mackenzie Basin choosing to do the right thing for nature while at the same time doing right by each other.

Does Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands overlay Te Manahuna Aoraki project?

Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands and Te Manahuna Aoraki complement each other in the same landscape. The chief difference is that Te Manahuna Aoraki is largely focussed on predator control while Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is focussed on broader conservation, ecological, cultural and economic outcomes in the areas below 800m above sea-level. Together they will contribute to a protected landscape and ecosystem spanning the entire Mackenzie Basin up to and including Aoraki/Mt Cook in the Southern Alps.

Who are Manawhenua?

The three kaitiaki rūnanga who hold Manawhenua for the Mackenzie Basin are Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua, Te Rūnanga o Waihao, and Te Rūnanga o Moeraki. In the upper basin, Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua are the lead kaitiaki rūnanga, with Waihao and Moeraki taking lead roles further down the catchment. All three rūnanga with Manawhenua support one another and work together in the Waitaki catchment, as kaitiaki for the lifegiving and connecting waters as they flow from Aoraki to the mouth of the Waitaki River, in addition to their respective leadership of kaitiakitanga over the lands in the catchment.

Over 50,000 whānau whakapapa across the three Manawhenua rūnanga and therefore to the Mackenzie Basin, and these rūnanga bring several hundred years of intergenerational knowledge to the project as kaitiaki, as the Crown and Manawhenua sit together around the table of Treaty partnership in this project.

What framework or principles for the project have been agreed with Manawhenua?

The Department has formally confirmed its commitment to genuine Treaty partnership in the Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands project.

Te Ao Māori is a central pillar of the Department’s Strategic Plan, putting the Department’s commitment to working in Treaty partnership as a high priority.

In practical terms DOC has formally committed to:

  • Working towards the joint development of a Treaty-based framework for the project and the catchment;
  • The co-design and delivery of ecological and cultural outcomes.
  • Inclusion of newly transferred conservation lands into Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands and working together on how they are classified
  • Investigating the opportunity to establish a mahinga kai centre in the basin; and
  • Exploring economic outcomes for whānau, including employment.

What has been achieved so far with the $2.6M 2018 Budget appropriation?

The Cabinet appropriation was $2.6M over four years from July 2018. $1.3M of that appropriation had been spent by 30 June 2020. This funding provided the foundation for DOC to increase investment in protecting the Mackenzie Basin floor. This includes increased weed control, a step change in how Treaty partnership is delivered between the Crown and Manawhenua, and the increased protection of five new pieces of conservation land.

Moving forward, the funding will support increased investment with the community to unlock further protection on private land, in partnership with landowners.

Specific achievements include:

  • The increased protection of a further 4,000 hectares of braided riverbed land through a statutory transfer from LINZ administration to DOC management.
  • Significant additional weed control on Basin floor conservation areas.
  • Enhancement of the Department’s Treaty partnership with manawhenua.
  • A complete scientific analysis and prioritisation of the Mackenzie Basin’s ecosystems and species.
  • Increased resourcing to local authorities to prioritise biodiversity and landscape outcomes through district planning tools.
  • An independent assessment and review of the regulatory mechanisms and future approach for integrated land and water management in the Mackenzie Basin.
  • Aligned decision making between statutory bodies, and an increase in information sharing between regulatory agencies. 

What has been spent so far in the Mackenzie Basin on weed and pest control?

During the last financial year the Crown has spent $6.3m on biosecurity control and biodiversity management in the Mackenzie Basin. This includes wilding conifer control and predator control across conservation and private lands. 

How can landowners get involved?

The next focus for Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is to work with landowners and the Mackenzie Country Trust to develop an approach for the further protection of dryland landscapes on private land.

It is essential that those who live and depend on the land for their livelihoods are at the centre of identifying how conservation protection can be achieved on their land. 

Will there be any more land intensification in the Mackenzie Basin?

It is possible we will see some further intensification in the Mackenzie Basin. This is because there are a small number of existing authorised consents under the Resource Management Act 1991 which can still be implemented by the consent holder.

In recent years planning regulations have been significantly strengthened to give additional protection to the Mackenzie natural environment. This change has reduced the amount of intensification in the Basin but the rules do not prohibit someone applying for a consent for certain activities which result in intensification. If there is an application for intensification it will need to be assessed against the relevant planning framework and there is no certainty it will be granted. 

The 2013 Mackenzie Agreement anticipated much greater collaborative protection of the landscape and dryland ecosystems, and also anticipated that a small amount of intensification would still be required to maintain the economic resilience of the community.

Tu Te Rakiwhanoa Drylands provides the opportunity to work together to deliver on one part of the Mackenzie Agreement through increasing protection together, across boundaries. Tū Te Rakiwhānoa  Drylands doesn’t take the place of the RMA framework – rather it compliments these other mechanisms through collaborative conservation. While agricultural intensification is not within the scope of the project, it is recognised that there are many parts that will come together to realise the vision of the Mackenzie Agreement across multiple sectors. Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is the protection vehicle for the Basin floor. 

Did the project have milestones set as part of its funding agreement?

From its outset the project was focussed on working with the community to achieve its biodiversity outcomes.

In line with this approach a number of milestones have charted progress. Most are not time bound but are sequential and only progress once the previous ones have been achieved.

Major milestones were:

  • Joint development of a Treaty-based framework for the project and the catchment including the commitment to undertake a co-design approach with Manawhenua
  • Securing land protection through formal processes:
    1. Tasman riverbed transfer from LINZ to DOC complete
    2. Other riverbeds designated for transfer
    3. Purchase of part of Ōhau Downs station by Nature Heritage Fund.
    4. Simons Pass tenure review complete (by mid-2020)
    5. Twin Peaks tenure review complete.
    6. Formal relationship agreement with NZ Defence Forces.
  • Begin engagement with community including landowners.

Read a media release about the project 5 September 2020

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