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Freshwater Fortune Tellers

In 2018 I discovered a newfound love (or should I say, I rediscovered a long forgotten love) of working with paper. I was researching Te Tapere nui o Whatonga (or 70 Mile Bush), the vast native bush that once spanned the lands from Dannevirke to Masterton. This continuous area of bush were also described as “the Great Food Basket, the Pharmacy and the University” for the iwi and hapu living there, a kaupapa that greatly resonated with me, as it reminded me of the Norwegian philosophy and way of life (called Friluftsliv or Open Air Life) that I grew up to know and love; where walking the forests and mountains with my family, every tree, moss, lichen, plant, rock, ridge and stream that we encountered presented an opportunity to learn about our history, about how to gather food, how to make medicine, how to live in balance with nature.

In Open Air Life I created a series of resources and opportunities to enable people to connect with their natural CBD environment in simple, accessible and playful ways. One resource was the Open Air Life Fortune Teller prototype. Essentially the fortune teller would contain images and messages that prompted the participants to engage with their natural environment.

In 2019 the restoration work that the St Teresa student Kaitiaki of Donald’s Creek were doing enabled me to adapt the Open Air Life Fortune Teller to create a Freshwater Kaitiakitanga Fortune Teller. This fortune teller provided a series of individual precious miniature canvases for the students to create their own designs inspired by the stream and their experiences as Kaitiaki. Each fortune teller design was replicated in a series of 10 and handed out to the participants at the Freshwater Celebration. Together with with the students, teacher Liz Lark, MTSW Director Zoe Studd and designer Liam Hopkinson we were also able to tailor the fortune teller prompts to both enable all participants at the Freshwater Celebration to “take the Kaitiakitanga Challenge” – navigating the Donald’s Creek restoration site by interacting with the fortune teller and following its prompts – and be able to apply these prompts where where-ever else they may be in the world.

Now is a good time to share a more detailed steps of “how to make” the Donald’s Creek Freshwater Fortune Teller, and encourage you all to spend a little time to make your own. This can lead to many a lovely creative moment, wonderful and meaningful conversations around our freshwaters and the wider environment, and some special and lighthearted family time. (You can’t ever go wrong with “Eat something yummy!”)….! You can follow our templates below for the themes and prompts:

The fortune teller creation process often gets the creative juices flowing and you will soon realise how the fortune teller can be both cheeky and informative. For this reason, before getting really stuck into the actual physical folding, creasing, tearing (only once), writing and designing, I recommend to take a moment to plan what are the key messages you want to share with your fortune teller, perhaps what are your favourite things about freshwater.

And, just like you will create your own drawings for the Fortune Teller, I encourage you to create your own messages inspired by Freshwater conservation and a life that celebrates and encourages kindness and caring for our planet, whether it is for this Fortune Teller, or for your next one. In fact, as I have been working on this template, I have enjoyed creating a few other “lockdown friendly and environmentally minded” designs with my kids, Florian 9 and Felix 6, that I will share in a day or two. But first….

How to make your very own Freshwater Fortune Teller:

  1. Start with one piece of A4 paper. Fold the right bottom corner across the paper so that the bottom part of the paper aligns perfectly with the lower left side. Crease. Unfold paper and repeat the same actions with the bottom left corner.
  2. Fold the top rectangle of the paper over, crease (do this a few times, and alternate the side to which you fold and crease). Tear the upper part of the paper off to form a perfect square. (Alternatively cut with scissors.)
  3. Carefully fold each corner towards the centre, push down on the fold and crease well each time.
  4. Once all corners have been folded, turn over. (Below picture shows the folded paper before it is turned over.)
  5. Repeat the same action: folding each corner towards the centre.
  6. Fold the paper object in half to form a rectangle – every way that you can, horizontally and vertically, opposite side, same again. Weigh or press down with something as you do. This will help open the fortune teller up and make it easier to use.
  7. Open the fortune teller so that your doubly folded layers point up, and the single folded layers support it from below (this is where you place your fingers). Picture 7 shows the doubly folded layers from above. Mark your “theme” – alternatively, this is where you place your “number”.
  8. Unfold completely. The far triangles making up your corners will be your “picture” space. The two triangles immediately on each sides will now be your theme. The remaining space will be for your messages and/or additional decorations.
  9. Write your 8 themes: in our case we chose : Aware – Inspire – Explore – Tidy Tuna – Kai – Creatures – Riffle – Senses.
  10. Open up the flaps that correspond to your themes – write messages or action prompts that fit with your theme. We chose: Do the ABC Bike Check or learn about local freshwater issues (Aware) – Create some nature inspired art (Inspire) – Discover the many names of your local stream (Explore) – Mulch or water a plant (Tidy Tuna) – Eat something delicious! (Kai) – Find the name of three freshwater animals (Creatures) – Check the current or build a boat (Riffle) – Describe sounds and smells by the stream (Senses).
  11. Pause and Admire your Handiwork 🙂 Make sure you have done them all. Then close the flaps.
  12. Turn your fortune teller over and flatten your fortune teller again, using an even and heavy object, such as a metal ruler or a book. (This is so that you create a flat and event work surface for your next steps.)
  13. Sketch out your design in pencil. What are the four images or symbols that you want to draw to set the tone and feature on your fortune teller? Or would you rather make one continuous design, maybe with four different “key features”?
  14. Colour in your design. Maybe add some more features as you build it.
  15. Reassemble the fortune teller and invite someone to have a go and find their freshwater fortune!

There are multiple ways to use the Freshwater Fortune Teller, here’s one: choose one of the four designs, maybe it’s a picture of a river, spell “r – i – v – e – r” as you move the fortune teller flaps. Then choose a theme, for example “Riffle”: spell “r – i – f – f – l – e” out as you move the fortune teller, finally pick another theme, say, “Tidy Tuna” and open up the corresponding flap to reveal the message – in our case “Water or mulch a plant”. Then go water or mulch (or otherwise care for) a plant. The next time, you might end up choosing “Creatures”, “Aware” or perhaps “Kai” and as that last flap opens, you are commanded to “Eat something delicious!”


Celebrating our waterways with fish bunting

It’s been a while. As we are tucked away, hopefully all safe in our very own lockdown bubbles, we could probably need a little distraction, something to do and get excited about, something that exists and that we can interact with, unequivocally both inside and outside of our bubbles. Well, here it is: We are in the Wairarapa, where sparkling, glittering, chattering waterways carve through the landscape every second of the day, at every couple of corners that we turn and gaze upon, from a-near and afar.

This Summer we had drought, and I was very worried about the lack of water in Donald’s Creek impacting on the health and lives of the freshwater creatures that shelter in it. I hoped that perhaps there was a puddle here (upstream) and maybe a puddle there (downstream) and that the water was trickling through some centimetres or more below ground, but it was hard to know for sure. Then on the first weekend of lockdown, when we were all a bit shell shocked and worried, not made any easier by the endless rain and having trouble separating between real life and the endless games of monopoly, the creek pushed itself back to become a thrashing bashing river, almost racing across the fields. Phew.

Now, for this Autumn and Winter, it is here to stay. The creek may not look so pretty just yet, as it is still framed by scorched plants from weeks of heat and drought. But nevertheless it is here to provide a home to fish, maybe to some eels, and surely to a lot of bugs. So let’s celebrate it, visit it! If it is within walking distance, at Barr Brown Bush Reserve, or as it crosses Harrison Street East, or Fitzherbert Street – take a look across the bridge – or from State Highway 2, or perhaps as it merges with Abbot’s Creek some way down towards the Moana. Spend some time looking at, and listening to the water. It may even make lockdown a little more bearable.

And whether you can walk to these places or not, or yours is a different stream, or perhaps it’s a rainy day, another way to celebrate our freshwater is to make some fish bunting. Fish bunting can brighten up a window, an information stand, your kitchen or bedroom wall or ceiling, or can even be a clever way to say something important, because it draws people to look at it. It also gets rid of all those old magazines piling up in the corner of the table…! One thing is for sure; it is definitely fun to make!

Here are some fish we made last year….

All the local Featherston primary schools were invited to participate in making fish bunting for the Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration Event. It ended up being very popular and the bunting was displayed at the event as well as in many shops along Featherston’s main street! Check out this link for more pictures of all the amazing fish that the school children created!

How to make Donald’s Creek Fish Bunting:

You will need:

Materials: coloured or scrap paper (old magazines, real estate/news/papers), string.

Tools: Scissors, glue stick and hole punch (optional)

1) Print/photocopy and cut out 2 x fish templates. (Here’s also a printable combined fish template and instructions.)
Cut one template into parts: tail, head, and main body. You can use all these templates again and again.

2) Trace and cut coloured or scrap paper to fit one whole fish. This gives you a stabile surface onto which you can glue other coloured paper onto each side.

3) Trace and cut coloured paper to fit one side and glue onto the fish.
Turn the fish over, and trace and cut coloured paper to fit the other side of fish.
Glue tail, body and head onto both sides of whole fish cut-out.

I think we’ll call this the Money Catcher Fish… 🙂

4) Cut round pieces for eyes and glue on (tips: make each eye from two different types of paper, or look for a pattern that creates an interesting eye shape). Trim any edges that don’t fit neatly (this is optional – sometimes it’s nice to leave them on!).

5) To make your next fish, complete steps 2-4 again.

To hang: cut a small hole in head or tail of each fish for the string (a hole punch does an excellent job). Add more coloured fish in different colours and patterns and use as bunting.

Here’s another lot of fish that my 6 year old son, Felix, and I made the other day. Because we happened to have a few old National Geographic magazines, some of the fish ended up looking a bit opinionated… which we quite liked 🙂 and we also found that we could give them interesting or funny names.

The Money Catcher, the Orange Roughy, the Bird Fish and the Graffiti Splatter Fish….?
Here we seem to have come across a new species of Protest Fish…!

Taking the Kaitiakitanga Challenge!

Finally, the time had come, it was all go for the Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration Event! Saturday, 30 November was (in spite of a very wet and windy November lead up) a particularly beautiful day for spending a bit of time by your local stream. People came in droves, flocks and shoals… to do the Kaitiakitanga Challenge!

The community were able to access the event and site from Donald Street, via the scenic route across a private grassy walkway and paddock – thanks Tim Watson! Arriving on foot and on bike, and taking in the sight of the event from the top of the pines and as they walked along the path surrounded by tall grass, it was a warm and welcoming feeling and an abundance of things to see and to do!

The Kaitiakitanga Challenge was introduced through a series of Donald’s Creek Freshwater Fortune Tellers that the kaitiaki students had co-created with Siv Fjaerestad and Liz Lark, and supported by Zoe Studd and Liam Hopkinson – offering a combination of wonderful drawings and action prompts, the participants “found their fortune” as they were guided through the site and activity stations, exploring the many treasures, critters and experiences!

Once you had completed 5 of the activities, including eating something yummy (an often heard incredulous exclamation from children during the day was: “WE GET A STAMP FOR EATING SOMETHING YUMMY???!!”) the participants would enter into the draw for beautiful freshwater books and resources donated by Amber McEwan. And no-one went home empty handed – whether they walked away with a beautiful limited edition Donald’s Creek Fortune Teller or a coloured in taniwha, or knowing they had painted a stencil onto the under bridge mural, or the memory of having captured, identified and learnt the names of a macro-invertebrate, said hello to a baby eel, explored a catchment, watered a plant, and more, these were beautiful and meaningful experiences and memories from the day and stream.

The under-bridge mural activity initiated and led by Liam Hopkinson, was a favourite by many and a fun and accessible activity for everyone to contribute to, using the many wonderful stencils that had been created by the St Teresa’s students and Siv Fjaerestad. The mural created a “secret landmark” of the event and the work done so far – and an ode to the stream itself!

There was also the beginnings of our very own Donald’s Creek freshwater science station…supported by South Wairarapa Rotary Club, Featherstob Lioness Club and built by the Featherston Mens Shed!

Some of the most precious moments came right at the end of the day when students and other children attending the event were able to help release the eels, fish and other critters back into the stream – their home – after a good day’s work of being on display for everyone to learn about the eco systems of Donald’s Creek! Thanks Critters!

“We were fortunate to have on our side many wonderful and inspiring people, groups and organisations who helped make this event possible, and helped celebrate and raise awareness of the stream and the important work that the students have been doing!”

Thanks to all of those who helped run the stations and activities, who helped weed and release plants (before and during event), to those who baked the most delicious cakes and treats, to those who discovered old maps and records, who shared pūrākau, knowledge, stories or childhood experiences, who played beautiful music and sounds, who took photographs, who lent gazebos, mats, tarps, pillows, blankets, and stuff, who ran errands and lifted all heavy stuff, who built us a work table, who put together gazebos and donated hay bales and coffee sacks, who supported the project through social media, great advise, beautiful design, print, precious knowledge, and a can do attitude, who offered and lent us paddocks and grassy walkways, and so much more!!! A special thanks go out to key project funders Trust House and South Wairarapa Rotary Club, as well as South Wairarapa District Council and City Care for their support towards this event! It’s also a pleasure to announce Featherston Lioness Club as a key funder of the overall project and future developments!

Finally a special thanks go out to the students and teacher Liz Lark of St Teresa’s School, and to Zoe Studd and Liam Hopkinson (MTSW) for your hard work, your vision, your support, your creativity and your kaitiakitanga!

More photos can be found at Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration event and Donald’s Creek MTSW Freshwater Celebration Event Album.

A full list of contributors

  • Zoe Studd, Liam Hopkinson, Sarah Kachwalla – Mountains To Sea Wellington – key sponsor, all round direction and wrap around support to project, including freshwater education, funding, design, health & safety, equipment, critter station and mural!
  • Students: Jay Abaton, Lucien Ball, Rose Barry, Brayden Cuff, Benjamin Eberlein, Dana Edwards, Cassidy Gawler, Addison Gillies, Leyton Hall, Travis Hancock, Willow Harcourt, Scarlett Matthews, Dana Miranda, Ladanian Noanoa, Samuel Ratuki, Van Rozing, Mexi Sargent, Monique Sargent, Te Maire Sargent, Tristan Wagner, Liz Lark (teacher), Jennifer Muth (Principal) – St Teresa’s School – original concept, plan and plantings of Donald’s Creek Restoration, creation and donation of event resources, traffic management, equipment fence repairs and more!
  • Trust House Foundation – key sponsor!
  • Pamela Messervy, Tamara Allerhand, Paul Mason, Mary Mason, Guy Dowle, John Bushell, Andy Corrigan – South Wairarapa Rotary Club – key sponsor and on-the-day support towards set up, pack down, traffic management, floating volunteers and more!
  • Featherston Lioness Club – key sponsor and delicious baking!
  • Richard Burgess, Denis Cutler, Garry Thomas and fellow members of Featherston Mens Shed – fine carpentry
  • Bryce Neems, Colin Olds of South Wairarapa District Council, Featherston Community Board – and the City Care team – all round support and sponsorship for mowing, weed eating, portaloo, waste management!
  • Oliver Vetter – Sustainable Coastlines – Tidy Tuna station, all round support, equipment and resources!
  • Jim Flack and Anna Burrows – Department of Conservation – Kai Station, all round support, floating volunteers and equipment
  • Jack Sheppard and Sophronia Smith – Fab Feathy Community-led Development – Riffle Station and all round pre event support
  • Cheryl Gallaway, Guy Walker, David Kleinjan – Moana Cycle Trail Group – Aware Station and key support with identifying safe access!
  • Warren Maxwell and Karen Mikaera – Pae tū Mōkai o Tauira – Karakia, Senses Station, Kaitiakitanga Station, and all round support towards set up, pack down!
  • Esther Dijkstra – Enviroschools – Catchment Model Station and all round support!
  • Sam Ludden – ceramic eels and Inspire Station!
  • Amber McEwan – donation of beautiful learning resources and awards!
  • Joseph Potangraroa – Rangitāne o Wairarapa – Critters Station, sharing of stories, information, historical maps, tikanga, and stories around the Wairarapa waterways!
  • Ra Smith – Kahungunu ki Wairarapa – Inspire Station, sharing of stories, information, historical maps, tikanga, and stories around the Wairarapa waterways!
  • Gareth Winter – Wairarapa Archives – maps and historical records related to the stream and wider catchment!
  • Hamish Donald, John Skippage, Graham Hodder, sharing stories, historical surveys, imagery and records related to the stream – also thanks to Hamish for making a “litter press”!
  • Micheline Evans, Sam Ludden, Hamish Fenwick and Adam Mattsen – Greater Wellington Regional Council – all round pre-event support and communication for event, and consultation on site!
  • Liz Gibson (MTSW) and Sheryl Miller (GWRC) for Freshwater Workshops and support!
  • Alan Maxwell and Hannah Lintern – The Way Youth Club – all round support for Senses & Welcome Stations!
  • Brenden Sayyman, Emily Greenberg and Katie Beattie – Wairarapa Moana Community Restoration – Riffle and Explore Stations, floating volunteers, weeding & equipment!
  • South Featherston School – fish bunting!
  • Kahutara School – fish bunting!
  • Featherston School – equipment!
  • Bell Street Early Learning Centre – fish bunting!
  • Jacqui Jones, Fran Scott from Professionals – printing sponsorship!
  • Kirsten Browne, Tamara Olliver & John Hart – Fab Lab Masterton – priority set up design & turn around for invert plates
  • Amanda Valois, NIWA, and resources on macroinvertebrates prepared by Winterbourn et al. Bulletin 14, Entomological Society of New Zealand and Wai Care Resource, prepared by Ruby Jones, Stephen Moore, Andrew Jenks and Chrissy Henley!
  • Warren Maxwell and whanau, and Rupert Watson – beautiful music and sounds!
  • Graham Hodder – hay bales for the day!
  • Marvin Guerrerro & Don Luciano Coffee – donation of coffee sacks!
  • Print Space, Hey Jude Boutique, Mr Feather’s Den, The Ferret Bookshop, Loco Coffee & Books, For the Love of Books, Featherston Library, Higgle Dee Piggle Dee and Lang’s Pharmacy – display of fish bunting!
  • Emma McCleary, Marise Rozing, Sian Harcourt, Rachel Kerr, Jennie Marks, Lyn Olds and one or more mystery bakers – Bakers of delicious cakes & sweets!
  • Martine and Renze Bijker, Greytown Library via Bryce Neems, South Wairarapa Rotary Club, Liz Lark – additional gazebos & gear!
  • Romain Busby, Abbie (surname?), Marcus Anselm and Rae Williams Karaitiana for help with set up of event, photography, weeding, Tidy Tuna Station, Tiff North for being last minute IT support & admin whizz, Jen Olson and Rachel Griffiths for great ideas, and everyone and anyone else (should I somehow have forgot anyone) who supported and helped make this event possible!

The event left us all inspired and excited for the future of this stream and continued restoration of the site – we look forward to more planting and community involvement, more weeding and releasing, more opportunities to explore the stream and support its ecosystems! Stay tuned….

He tangata He tangata He tangata Kaitiakitanga!

“Follow that critter!”

Where does this stream come from? Where to does it travel? How does it reflect and connect environment around us – how does it reflect and connect us?

From high up, where its tributaries slips and ducks down through deep Remutaka gullies, to where it glides, chuckles and natters through the native forest and spreads and meanders across paddocks before it slinks, squeezes and navigates under bridges and state highways, in between flood management stop banks…it is welcomed by the Donald’s Creek Kaitiaki – before it heads downstream again to more shaded and sheltered banks, and then it eventually joins the Otauira Stream in a warm embrace, and together they travel and join the Moana.

On Tuesday we set out to share our knowledge and love of this stream with the rest of the community, and to make sure they all know about the Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration this Saturday 30 November!

At 12noon, on the hottest and brightest time of the day, we arrived bright eyed and bushy-tailed at the Squircle by Fitzherbert Street, carrying cardboard stencils and food grade chalk paint. We were excited to be bringing the stream to the community, and introducing to everyone some of the critters that live in the stream. Creating our stencils in vivid greens, reds, blues and yellows, we allowed the creatures to float on down the main street of Featherston, creating a stream bed on the concrete!

It was so much fun, seeing the student kaitiaki art works being transferred to the main street footpaths. And while we only had a short window to paint before heading back to school, we were excited to have been able to point people in the direction of the stream, and put Donald’s Creek at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We hope it will encourage everyone to join us at the event on Saturday!

So if you are wondering where to go today, follow that critter! And then head to the east, towards Donald Street and take the scenic route to the stream from there!

Access to event from Donald’s Street, kindly provided to us by a nearby resident!

We were also so excited to see the support from local show owners and businesses, who was showcasing the beautiful, fun and thoughtful fish bunting that were made by students from Kahutara, South Featherston and St Teresa’s Schools to help support and celebrate the project and our local waterway!

As you find your way to the stream, you will become part of its history. You will be able to water and mulch the plants that grow around it. You will meet some of the critters that we may find in the stream. And we will be able to explore what is the history of the stream, what are the paths of the stream, and how has the stream changed over the years – what are its names, and what are the stories connected to this stream! We will be joined by Rawiri Smith, Hamish Donald, Joseph Potangaroa and more, who will be able to shed some light on this. Another blog post will also follow about the information that we discovered on our field day, and that we are still unravelling from various maps and sources. Be sure to come along to find out more about your local stream!

Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration Event – only 6 more days to go!

We invite you all to join us and do the Kaitiakitanga challenge 12noon-2.30pm, Saturday 30 November! The Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration event celebrates the mahi that the student kaitiaki have achieved so far, share plans for the future, and provides an opportunity for the community to spend some time exploring and getting to know your stream!

So come on down and meet the critters, paint a mural, laze in the grass, eat some yummy food, listen to some tunes, get your ABC Bike check, create some nature inspired art, explore the catchment and history of the Wairarapa waterways, and sail a leaf boat down the stream! Access off Donald Street, ca 70m up from Revans Street. Have you got it in your calendars yet? Don’t miss out – the students can’t wait to show you everything that we have learnt about the stream!

The past two weeks things have certainly been ramping up. Many designs and art works are in finishing stages, posters are out, fish art are going on display at local shops and the library as we speak, weeding is being done, site planning and there is still so much more to come!

It was awesome to receive and see all the fish bunting/hanging fish that students from South Featherston School and Kahutara School have done to support the project! For a moment there, my lounge became a sea of fish in all colours and patterns – all double-sided too! Most of the fish are now delivered to the local shops – and we look forward to seeing them hang in windows and remind people of the stream and the event next Saturday! Thanks to all the shops for supporting the project! We hear more fish are on their way… stay tuned!

Also big thanks to a crew of lovely helpers today who came to weed the plants that were planted in late July this year. In the last month things have got out of hand and many of the carex grasses and toe toe have become swamped by weeds.

At first it was a little bit like looking for the needle in the hay stack, trying to find the plants among the high and dense weeds, but it soon turned into a treasure hunt and was all the more rewarding when we started finding the plants and cutting down some of the grass around them. We made sure to leave the cut grass around the plants as it looks like the plants will need all the shade they can get, and water, in the warmer season. And there is certainly also still more work to be done!

While we worked, the boys had the best time playing hide and seek in the tall grass and from time to time cooling down in the stream.

Thanks to Emily, Katie, Rebekah, Abbie, Siv, and another two helpers, for all the hard work! And thanks to the lovely neighbours who came down to say hello!

Be sure to keep up to date with the event on facebook: Donald’s Creek Freshwater Celebration Event: See you there!

A Donald’s Creek Field Day – part 1.

Thursday 25 October started out with high winds and some glimmers of sunshine in between looming clouds. The students had been looking forward to this outing for so long. And it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity to explore the stream in the company of Zoe Studd, Joseph Potangaroa, Ra Smith, Hamish Donald and Hamish Fenwick, all whom had agreed to come down to the site especially on this day to share their knowledge about the freshwater critters, eels, stories of the stream and the Wairarapa waters, and how the stream and restoration site has changed over the years.

So the kids and Liz dressed up warm and started the walk down – just as the sky broke and rain started pouring down. In spite of this, spirits were lifted as they came on site and met Zoe and Joseph, who had brought with them a beautiful longfin eel for us to meet.

The students had encountered baby eels in the past, but this whaea tuna was something else and a real inspiration to us all. She stayed calm in a large bucket as we greeted her. Zoe and Joseph told us about her, what to do, and where on her body to gently stroke her, and what to look out for in case she would start feeling distressed. I have to say, her skin was the most silky smooth that I have ever felt – how interesting it was to hear that eels have their scales on the inside as opposed to the outside, and that they can create a layer of slime to help them crawl across land if they need to. We could feel the wrinkles of the long fin eel as she gently curved and curled around in the bucket. A shortfin eel will not have these wrinkles! We also learnt that eels will create bubbles and froth if they feel stressed and this would be a sign for us to stop touching her. I was awestruck, and I think many of the students with me.

We catch a glimpse of the eel as the students and Zoe measures her to estimate her age.
Student kaitiaki gather around the eel.

We managed to get about 45 minutes at the creek before it just got too rough and cold, and we decided to head back to the classroom to continue the field day there. Luckily Joseph, Ra and the two Hamishes could all come along, and Zoe brought us a variety of buckets and basins with water samples and macroinvertebrates. Ironically, not long after the sun broke through the skies and the day turned lovely – though windy.

The field-day-come-class-room-freshwater-monitoring was still exciting with calm indoor weather conditions and yummy cookies! The water clarity tube showed that the Donald’s Creek water in the restoration site is very clear. The temperature was a nice cool temperature and the many basins of critters were all pretty chocka with mayflies, dobsonflies, stoneflies, leeches and more.

There was no shortage of critters to identify! More images on macroinvertebrates found on the day at

We even spotted an adult mayfly who may have finished its metamorphosis in the classroom, or was about to lay some more eggs (less likely).  Either way, it caught a ride in Zoe’s car as she was filling up the trays of water, and was now having a rest on the classroom ceiling!

An adult mayfly having a rest in the ceiling.

All in all the stream got a pretty clean bill of health at this stage and this was inspiring and reassuring for the planting work that has been done so far. It is also safe to say that in spite of being a weed, the thick forest of celery-weed edging the stream acts as an important layer of shade, and the watercress below provides plenty of tiny tunnels and hiding spots for critters to thrive. This is helpful while we wait for the toe toe and grasses to grow and create more powerful protection!

Back in the classroom Joseph took the students on the eels’ journey where they not only travels thousands of kilometres twice in their lives, but also change from saltwater creatures to freshwater, and back to saltwater creatures again! In other words, these are the real deal superheroes with real super powers! No more Batman or even Aquaman for us, that’s for sure!

Here’s what we found out:

The NZ long fin and short fin eel live in rivers, lakes, and wetlands for most of their lives. The longfin eel, or tuna as it’s called, can live to the ripe old age of 80 years before it travels 5000km to the South Pacific near Tonga to breed – and there it dies. The tiny fertilised eggs then start the long journey back to New Zealand – they float on ocean currents for about 15 months until they reach New Zealand shores. Just off the coast of New Zealand they turn into glass eels, little leaflike creatures, and they start changing their organs to be able to adjust to life as freshwater creatures and also be able to survive outside the water. Did you know they are able to travel overland for up to 2 days by breathing through their skin! As they journey up the streams of New Zealand they turn into elvers and then eels and they find their way back to where the forefathers and mothers had once lived.

The eels have extraordinary sense of smell – only second to dogs – and use this to hunt. Joseph also shared with us another “superpower” that eels have – to find out more, be sure to come along to the Donald’s Creek Community Event on 30 November!

Ra Smith told us that the oldest eel that we know of in New Zealand, lived till 105 years old! It was 1.7meters long, an extraordinary creature. I have heard stories about the Wairarapa waters having so many eels in them that sometimes you could hear them, from fields away, as they were gathering in rivers or trying to swim and climb up waterfalls. Imagine this, imagine how much has changed as we are now struggling to ensure that our streams are healthy enough to hold macroinvertebrates and be cool and clean enough to also provide a healthy habitat for the eels to return and flourish.

Ra told us about eels being a taonga for the people of the Wairarapa, an integral part of our waterways, and being both feared and revered due to its fascinating nature, its “superpowers” and historically as an important source of kai.

A whakataukī goes like so: “There are many eels, but there are also many logs”, and likened the eel to a taniwha, which could also be seen as a protector of the stream. Ra spoke inspired us all to be taniwhas of the stream – protecting it from pests and pollutants, and making good decisions about the future of our waters. He got us thinking about what a taniwha might look like, and do.

The taniwhas of Donald’s Creek…!!!

Another whakataukī that I have since come across liken their nature and ability to slip away to something that is important but cannot be obtained.

Ko Tangaroa ara rau
Kua kaheko te tuna i roto i aku ringa
Tangaroa of many paths
The eel has slipped through my hands

We got the same sense when we met the whaea eel that morning, we were meeting someone important, someone who is a protector, someone who is wise – this eel would know intimately how the Wairarapa waters have changed over the past 50 years.

This field day also brought us new revelations of the name and previous paths of the stream, something we will revisit in the next blogpost – and that you will be sure to find out more about at the Donald’s Creek Community Event on 30 November! So keep your superpowers turned on – your ears and eyes peeled for more news!

Donald’s Creek Restoration Community Event – only a month to go!

After months of research, monitoring, goal-setting, planning and planting, the student kaitiaki of Donald’s Creek are busy designing and creating in preparation for yet another exciting part of the journey to restore Donald’s Creek. On Saturday 30th of November, we invite the community to come along to a fun-filled, freshwater monitoring family event where everyone can spend some time getting to know the stream, learn about the project, and celebrate the great mahi achieved so far!

Save the date: 

  • When: Saturday 30 November, 12noon-2.30pm
  • Where: Donald’s Creek Restoration site, between SH2 and SH53.
  • Access to event from Donald Street (north end) approximately 50m up from crn of Revans Street. We recommend biking or walking to the site! Parking also available on Donald Street. (NO PARKING or access to site at any time during event on SH53.)

What can I do at the event?

The programme of activities includes: fresh water monitoring by St Teresa’s Kaitiaki and Mountains to Sea Wellington; an insight into the history of the stream and the plan for its future, including riparian planting by the students; have a go with several models and demonstrations, such as a catchment model and water purification; as well as a “Donald’s Creek treasure hunt”, stream races, and various other activities for kids, yum food; and… hopefully some music, as well as some surprise elements!

At the event we will also get to meet and learn about some of the fish and critters living in the stream, such as macroinvertebrates (see above photos from a recent class room macroinvertebrates identification session!), eels, bullies and inanga; all important indicators of stream health! We may even be joined by a few dung beetles who are working hard to reduce pollution to our streams. There will also be an opportunity to help clean up the stream, pick up handy tips about how to become smarter with our waste, and to reduce urban pollution to our waterways.

Students are busy creating tools for the event!

During the past weeks the students have been working on designs for some of the interactive tools and resources, which the community will be able to sample and enjoy at the event. As I am writing this article, the student kaitiaki are also due to participate in a field day event where they will explore the local history of Donald’s Creek, including big picture connections with the Wairarapa Moana and wider Wairarapa waterways, the journey of the tuna, flood management, and how the creek got its name. No doubt this new learning will feed into our community event on 30 November!

The Donald’s Creek Restoration Community Event is a unique opportunity for everyone in Featherston to come along and discover, explore and connect with their local stream. This is also an opportunity to explore exciting local and real opportunities for enabling restoration of biodiversity through, and within, our urban spaces, and in this way, improving habitat and returning native fish species to our local waterways.

To find out more about the project, or if you would like to have a presence at or help out at the event, run a stall, a sausage sizzle or bring some baking to share, head to or contact Siv on 0212 567 441.

We are tremendously grateful to various groups and individuals who are supporting the project, including Mountains to Sea Wellington, South Wairarapa Rotary Club, the Featherston Mens Shed, South Wairarapa District Council and Featherston Community Board, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Enviroschools and Sustainable Coastlines, and more are keen to come on board.

A Donald’s Creek Science Station!

Over the past few weeks we have continued to explore what our taxonomy of Donald’s Creek may look like. What are the fields of knowledge and the methods of observation and research that we apply as we learn about the stream and the surrounding site? What are the data, the stories, experiences and questions that we encounter, as results of our enquiries, along the way? How do we organise this information, how do we communicate this to the community of Featherston?

We started shaping our thinking into a few different frameworks – a physical framework and a conceptual framework. We needed a work surface, and using 4 flatpack cardboard boxes we built a makeshift 3D work surface and started brain storming with post it notes directly onto this.

It’s amazing what you can create out of cardboard. It’s perhaps even more amazing how cardboard can trigger our imagination. Give a small child a cardboard box and it instantly becomes whatever the child wants: a boat, a car, a house, a fort, a train carriage, a treasure box. A craft knife and some colouring in pens, maybe some more cardboard boxes, can become intricate forts and multi-story houses with important purpose – in our case it’s a first draft for a make shift prototype fresh water monitoring science station!

There is no end to the many wonderful ideas, thoughtful suggestions and inspired designs that the students offer up: we start closing in on its proportions, we envision and debate combined aesthetic and functionality, and we arrive at a set of solid groupings of knowledge including freshwater monitoring, history, matauranga maori, mapping, kaitiakitanga and waste-awareness and management.

And here’s the station used to showcase the project at the Featherston Expo this weekend. It was the perfect opportunity for us to connect with other local groups with shared interests and start getting the word out about our upcoming community event on 30 November – 12noon-2.30pm – save the date! We had lots of great feedback and comments to our project as well as to our environmentally friendly easy-fold-and-transportable-reusable work station that we hope to create on site! (Not in cardboard tho, but in more permanent materials..!)

A taxonomy of Donald’s Creek

Today I brought in a number of things (from previous projects) that the students could have a look at, play with, and test out. The idea was to get a feel for how these objects, such as a Masterton’s Urban Forest (native trees leaves) poster, streams and cbd nature trail maps, as well as small interactive nature trail stations, offer themselves up as tools and resources – and inspire and enable people to get to know, experience and explore the natural environment around them.

Before getting stuck in, we talked about how our discussions, exercises and activities during these class room sessions are steps towards creating our own set of tools and resources for the community to interact with and learn about the stream, fresh water monitoring, planting, and key observations and experiences from this project.

Today I had brought in five plant presses, and a selection of plant specimens that I had collected from the stream restoration site between SH2 and SH53 earlier that day. After a quick demo in pressing plants and creating herbarium vouchers, the students got stuck in pressing the plants and thinking about how to use labels to provide relevant information. There was concentration, passion, mindfulness, and plenty of smiles and laughter, and a keen interest in seeing these plants press faster than you could say cake!

Note: we did not aspire to create perfect botanical herbarium vouchers examining the plant taxonomy of individual plants. Learning how to press and preserve plants is a hugely rewarding process and a relevant outcome in itself as it helps us organise knowledge and learn more about the environment and vegetation around the stream.

We are also using this process as a way to start creating our own “visual taxonomy” for the stream, through transforming scientific processes and data into effective designs and prompts that can draw the community’s attention to the stream and its ecosystems.

But an hour is not long and all of a sudden we had to fast-forward to the last part of the session; brain storming and physically grouping objects and concepts into areas of knowledge that relate to the stream. Having also sourced water, stream sediments including silt and various sizes rocks, a bunch of rubbish from the site – and a number of photos taken at the site which depicted similar specimens and activities, including monitoring activities and tools – these were quickly scattered on the floor.

Suddenly I could not remember where I had left my fish, eels and freshwater science images! Luckily, Zoe Studd (MTSW) had just turned up to join us and got stuck in cutting out photos as well as a couple of cute paper fish and eel on the spot! We borrowed one of the students’ many wonderful paper construction “critters” (otherwise known as macro-invertebrates) hanging from the ceiling and we were set!

Not deterred by the brevity of time at hand and lack of space, the students made a great start to identifying and creating groupings of the objects and images in front of them. They identified rocks/sediments, water, rubbish, and monitoring instruments, including an orange! Who would have thought you could use an orange as an instrument of freshwater monitoring. (More about this in another blog post half drafted as we speak.)

Then the bell rang and we resolved to work on identifying the remaining groups another day. Wow, school life is certainly busy! Thanks to Liz for not only teaching, and supporting the students and me, but also taking all the photos today!

I include some images of the herbarium vouchers – a sneak peak only 24 hours after the plants were pressed! I am definitely looking forward to building on this process next Wednesday, where we may draw on our Hopes & Dreams drawings and texts, perhaps dabble in using the plant vouchers and other top-secret elements to develop some stencils. We are well on our way to developing some designs for our own tools and resources! He tangata he tangata he tangata kaitiakitanga!

Hopes and Dreams for Donald’s Creek (part 1)

Wednesday this week was a particularly exciting day for me! I got to meet the student kaitiaki of Donald’s Creek and talk to them about their hopes and dreams for the stream. I had heard lots about the project already, of course, thanks to teacher Liz Lark and Zoe Studd (Mountains to Sea Wellington). However, I was now looking forward to get the “inside scoop” from the students themselves – and also to be able to dig a bit deeper.

I am joining the project as a Creative Community Engagement Coordinator (CCEC) and part of my role will be to work together with the students to find ways to enable the community to engage with the project and stream, and to celebrate the great mahi of the student kaitiaki. So to give them a bit more of an idea of who I am and what I do before getting, we started the session with some slides from some recent projects that I have done, including Projected Fields, Open Air Life and taking part in WAI – Manga Maha, Awa Kotahi, One River, Many Streams, at Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History.

We also had a look at what’s been happening on this blog so far, so that they and their families know where to find it, and look out for updates. The students made me feel right at home and it was great to be able to talk to them about issues that we are all really interested in!

Hanging up in the class room were the brilliant restoration plans that the student kaitiaki had drawn out earlier in the project. I think I could easily have spent a whole day asking and finding out about their detailed drawings and what these represented. However school and student life is busy, so today I had only one hour, and I had come prepared with a bunch of questions and exercises to help me better understand what are some of the key ideas at stake for the students, and the experiences and dreams closest to their hearts.

When asked to work in groups and describe or list their favourite moments or experiences from the Donald’s Creek Restoration project so far, there was no shortage of insight or enthusiasm. From the great variety of responses it was obvious that through this project, all the students have been able to do or learn about something that was completely new to them – and equally, all of them have thoroughly enjoyed the monitoring of the stream and learning about fish, and especially eels and macro-invertebrates living there.

Below are some of their favourite moments and experiences:

“I like identifying the invertebrates because it’s fun to know what they are.”

“I like planting the plants because we got dirty and digging holes is fun.”

“We liked building a rock sculpture because it was fun!”

“I found a fish in a can that could have died or cut itself in the can.”

It was especially fun when we all had to “think like a fish” and imagine what a fish living in Donald’s Creek would like for the stream’s future.

Thinking like a fish is by no means to be confused with the myth that fish have a 3 second memory. On the contrary, research on fish has been found to be able to learn new things, develop their spatial awareness, make friends and strategic alliances to hunt for food and survive if provided with the right circumstances and stimulating environments, such as rocks, plants and pebbles, where they have to find their way around the place and overcome obstacles to get food. This is quite the opposite to the standard environments provided for fish in hatcheries; dull, bare tanks where the same food pellets are dropped every day. As a result, when releasing these fish into the wild to try to support dwindling populations and eradication of species, on average, only 7 out of 100 released fish will survive.

Some of the fish’ hopes and dreams for their stream, were (to):

We will continue to collect, record, group and share these hopes and dreams for Donald’s Creek as we continue to work together.

Next week the student kaitiaki are going to pick one of these many ideas, hopes and aspirations, and do a drawing or a small text on it. We will also be working with found objects, plants and exploring various tools and methods around how to categorise, identify, order and present information.