Protecting Puhinui Stream for future generations

Sustainability May 4, 2023

6 rangatahi Māori helping with Puhinui project

Z Energy (Z) has established a $1 million nature fund to improve the resilience of Aotearoa New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity. One project we’re supporting through this fund is the Sustainable Business Network’s Puhinui Regeneration Project.

A job that is helping to regenerate a once thriving but badly polluted river is giving awa ranger Naumai-Aria Wall something to look forward to each day.    

The 21-year-old absolutely loves her job, which involves restoring the native plants and species and improving the water quality of the Puhinui catchment, which has become polluted with urban waste. The 12km Puhinui Stream flows from Auckland’s Totara Park near the Botanic Gardens in Manurewa, through Ōtara and Papatoetoe and out into Manukau Harbour. 

“I love seeing the native birds and animals thriving and returning to this space and doing what they are supposed to be doing,” says Naumai-Aria. “I want my children to grow up and see this and enjoy the gifts that Papatūānuku [Earth Mother] can provide them.”  

Naumai-Aria, who grew up in Auckland and has links to the central North Island tribe of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, was so passionate about being involved with this project that she quit teaching waka ama in high schools to take up the full-time position with Te Pu-a-nga Maara.  

The marae-based organisation employs eight rangatahi Māori under the age of 21 from the Auckland region for the Puhinui Regeneration Project, a large-scale collaboration between mana whenua (local tribes) and many different local and national stakeholders, funders and sponsors – including Z and the Sustainable Business Network (SBN).  

Naumai-Aria is relishing learning new skills that use mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and traditional practices to help regenerate the stream. Her outdoor duties include planting native trees and shrubs along the Puhinui Stream and eradicating pest animals and plants.  

“It’s allowing me to connect to my culture,” says Naumai-Aria. “Also, the corporate sponsors and other mainstream organisations involved have been open to learning about our cultural practices, especially when it comes to how we look after our rivers, land and wildlife. That’s been amazing to see.”

For local iwi, Puhinui Stream was once a major source of kai and water, helping to feed and nourish the many communities along its catchment. Now it’s become one of the most polluted waterways in Auckland, filled with rubbish and waste from its urban and industrial surroundings. The stream is now highly eroded and at least 1.5km has been concreted over.  

Krissy Bishop, project manager at Te Pu-a-nga Maara, oversees the team employed on the Puhinui Regeneration Project and says the job is giving them the chance to learn and connect with their ancestors.  

“It’s been a huge shift and a new experience for these workers – these are urban kids who grew up in an urban environment,” Krissy explains.

“Our mission is to reconnect the whānau to the environment and create a movement of regeneration."

“A lot of our training is around native flora and fauna. They need to know what they are planting and why they are planting it. What effect does it have on the whenua [land]? Does it hold up the banks? What birds will it attract?” 

Krissy says the work is broadening future job opportunities for rangatahi. Some have even left to start their own businesses in the industry. The skills they are learning are teaching them to be kaitiaki or guardians of the land, with plans to pass on their knowledge to future generations. 

“These kids are passionate about what they do,” says Krissy. “They especially get excited when they see and hear native birds – like tūī and kererū – returning to the area, and being able to do a stocktake of who is there and which of Tane Mahuta’s [God of Forest and Birds] children are returning back to the land.” 

Z is working in partnership with SBN to help finance the training and job opportunities for rangatahi and the tools and resources needed to carry out the restoration project.  

SBN has been working alongside mana whenua Te Ākitai, Ngāti Tamaoho, Ngāti Te Ata, who are members of an iwi group called Te Waiohua. The iwi entity has been spearheading the project and has acknowledged that after many years of neglect, restoring the stream’s physical and ecological health will also help the surrounding communities become more prosperous.   

Z’s Head of Sustainability and Community, Abbie Bull, says the Puhinui Regeneration Project aligns with the organisation’s focus on the inherent connections between people, climate change and nature.  

“It’s important that companies understand the impact they have on the environment and society and address that through their approach to sustainability,” says Abbie. “There is growing recognition, underpinned by evidence and research, that human well-being is dependent on nature.  

“You can’t treat climate change, biodiversity loss and community resilience as separate issues. We need solutions that respond to these crises as an integrated whole.

"In developing Z’s Sustainability and Community Strategy, we not only considered our ambition to shift customers away from fossil fuels to low carbon products and services, but also how we can enhance the resilience of nature and communities throughout the transition.”  

Matthew McClymont, the Senior Project and Partnerships Manager at SBN, says his organisation has been empowering businesses for 20 years to change their systems and processes to improve the areas of climate, waste and nature. 

Matthew says supporting the Puhinui Regeneration Project gives his organisation the opportunity to focus on regenerating natural environments in a densely populated urban area.  

“We realised that a lot of our funding and our support were going to rural and regional spots, and we were overlooking our urban environment,” he explains.

“We made a concerted effort to engage with our urban communities as they are often the most degenerated and degraded, and are starving for connection to the natural environment.” 

Matthew says that working with the local iwi, businesses, community groups and Eke Panuku – the Auckland Council entity that delivers urban regeneration in Tāmaki Makaurau – is allowing them to restore the Puhinui Stream with long-term benefits for the area and its people.  

Find out more about Z’s nature restoration projects.