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Accessible boardwalk opens: Matuku Link, Waitākere

People of all abilities can traverse an accessible boardwalk opened at conservation and restoration project Matuku Link.

The new pedestrian bridge over the Waitākere River connects the Sustainable Wetland Education Centre via boardwalks and flat tracks to a pātake viewing platform. Believed to be the first accessible wetland boardwalk in Auckland’s largest wetland, the 1.5 km Walk and Wheel enables people in wheelchairs, with walkers or prams to experience the Matuku Link project at 111 Bethells Rd, Waitākere.

The walkway’s debut coincides with the sixth birthday of Matuku Link, a wetland reserve that allows access to Te Henga Wetland as well as a safe site for birds.

Matuku Link founder and trustee John Sumich says the boardwalk will safely allow people of many abilities to learn the values of wetlands and the threats to which some are still exposed. " Ninety per cent of wetlands that were in Aotearoa in pre-European times have been drained, filled, used as dumps, or their waters degraded by agricultural runoff and other pollutants," he says. Even the loss and degradation of a small area of wetland, through drainage, filling or pollution was another nail readied for its coffin, he says.

John has pleaded for more resources to provide for extra wetlands. "We hope that the call of matuku does not enter the shades joining the call of the huia, the pio pio, and the moa. If that occurs then at least it may be a contender for a new competition, Extinct Bird of the Year."

The Matuku Link project started in 2016 when the Matuku Reserve Trust bought 37 hectares of land at 111 Bethells Rd for $2.04 million after some major fundraising. Paddocks have been replaced by wetland trees and ponds have been created as habitats for the rare native duck pāteke (brown teal).

The Trusts were there right from the beginning to back the group’s restoration and conservation work. “The first substantial contribution to any of our projects was from The Trusts,” says Matuku Reserve Trust chair Chad Wilkie. A donation of $85,225 in 2018 through the Million Dollar Mission went toward the materials and conversion of an old barn into a sustainable wetland education centre.

People can learn about the importance of wetlands and the New Zealand environment at the transformed, well-ventilated barn. The goal is for young people to get exposed to conservation and learn how to care for native bush so the whole community can reap the benefits. "The education programme is to do with evangelising the concept of the wetlands and its restoration," Chad says. "Fundamentally, the wetlands are the lungs which filter out toxins in the soil ...and oxygenate the area. They're very important in the ecology of New Zealand."

Wetlands in Aotearoa support endangered plant species and threatened bird species including the brown teal, the Australasian bittern, fernbird, white heron and the marsh crake. Native fish depend on wetlands too with eight species including inanga, short-fined eels, bullies and kōkopu finding a haven there.

The Trusts continue helping the Matuku Link today. “In February 2022, The Trusts Community Foundation Ltd gave us $25,000 to cover part of my role as coordinator of the project and funded the natural wastewater treatment system (with worms) and a new roof for a total of $40.000,” says Matuku Link project manager Annalily van den Broeke. “It’s amazing everything they’ve paid for otherwise this would be impossible.”