Richie Clark and his dad Dave stood at the top of the hill surveying the 80-hectare block of land they had just purchased. It was mid-winter and heavy rain had turned a low-lying paddock surrounded by a horseshoe of hills into a bit of a bog.
Dave casually commented to Richie, “You know, a few hundred years ago, that paddock was a wetland. Wouldn’t it be cool to restore that piece of land to its original state and recreate a wetland there to attract native birds and wildlife.”
Little did Dave foresee the train of events such a comment would set in motion.
In the recesses of Richie’s mind, the wetland idea gently joined hands with the glimmer of a plan he had been nurturing since his return from an expedition in Africa.
“I travelled for three months from Cape Town to Rwanda camping under canvas, cooking and eating under the stars, surrounded by nature,” said Richie, who grew up at Manutuke on land farmed by his family since 1882. “There was something really special about being in a tent out in the natural environment as opposed to being enclosed in a hotel room.”
Looking down at the paddock on that wet winter day, Richie had a vision of what could be created there – a lake with a thriving ecosystem that would attract and sustain breeding populations of rare and endangered waterfowl with an adjacent campsite where people could come and stay to be immersed in nature.
Soon after, to test the feasibility of such a plan, a survey of the terrain was conducted and it was established that by building a dam wall they could create an eight-hectare lake.
The wall was duly built, and over a period of two winters the paddock gradually filled with water from the surrounding hills and Te Wai Repo O Te Arai Awa (the wetland of Te Arai River) was born … or rather reborn.