One day, songs may be sung and stories told of Tamanui, the kōkako, who helped bring life back to Parininihi forest, and of the passionate people who made it possible.

Parininihi is 2000 hectares of unique forest that stretches from Whitecliffs along the North Taranaki coast to inland Mt  Messenger further north. There are public walking tracks through the area.

What was once a tract of land thick with predators, putting the native flora and fauna on the brink, is today a thriving biodiverse wilderness of native birds, animals and plant life.

And, at the centre of the recovery, is Tamanui, and Ngāti Tama iwi, the kaitiaki of the area who wanted to have kōkako once again flourish in Parininihi.

In the late 1990s, in a desperate effort to prevent the extinction of Taranaki kōkako, the last birds were removed from forests within the Ngāti Tama rohe and placed in a breeding programme at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, Mt Bruce, in Wairarapa.

Tamanui was the last male to survive, and his offspring were sent to predator-free sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, to help build up kōkako numbers.

“There was always a desire of Ngāti Tama to bring these birds back to Parininihi, but at the time we didn’t have the land or skills to do that,” says Davis McClutchie, chair of Tiaki Te Mauri o Parininihi Trust.

In 2003, the land was returned to Ngāti Tama iwi as part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement, and three years later, iwi member and now trust project manager Conrad O’Carroll began pest control.

With predator control efforts becoming more intensive and more volunteers coming onboard, in 2012 it was decided a trust, including members of Ngāti Tama and wider community, would be formed to manage the work of pest control, species recovery and translocations, seek the ongoing funding required, and organise volunteer training.

With pest numbers down, in 2017 the long-held dream was realised when 12 kōkako were released into Parininihi. Tamanui’s descendants had come home.

In total, 40 birds have now been released and the trust is currently able to monitor five active nests.

As the battle against predators goes on, today there are more than 90km of trapping tracks and 1500 traps in the forest, and the work has had a positive impact on all flora and fauna in the forest, with kiwi, scarab beetle, mātātā (fernbird), king fern, rimu and the banded kokopu among the species thriving.

“The forest fauna’s and bird numbers are coming back,” says Davis. “There’s been a lot of education for the public to understand what we are doing. But they can see the difference now and there is great community buy-in.”

The buy-in includes some of the bigger corporate companies in Taranaki, who have provided much-needed funding. And there is great camaraderie, knowledge sharing and engagement with other Taranaki conservation projects.

“Our goal is to join up physically with other projects, transform the land, do good things for it and protect it.”