Three dune lakes formed by shifting sands blocking drainage to the sea, are a relatively new geological phenomenon on the north-west Waikato coast near Waiuku.
Formed sometime in the last 5000 years, three young lakes contain some of the best quality water in the Waikato district and provide a special natural environment. The sites also have a number of historic pas from local iwi Ngati te Ata.
Lake Otamatearoa is easily seen from Whiri Whiri Road, while Lakes Puketi and Rotoiti are on the south side of Karioitahi Road and cannot be seen.
The land around these lakes is owned by Geoff and Terry Muir and farmed by sons Mark and Willie. The property is approximately 1600 acres.
To protect the lakes from the impacts of farming, the Muirs have partnered with Waikato Regional Council (WRC) and several organisations, to fence the lakes and plant tens of thousands of native trees.
The project started in 2014 when the Muirs decided to fence off the lakes, which is helping reduce the number of bacteria and algae-stimulating nutrients in the waters, and providing a better environment for native plants and wildlife.
"We were always keen to fence off the lakes," says Mark Muir. "But didn't have time or resources available and had to prioritise our efforts elsewhere."
The Muirs felt that fencing alone would not be enough to restore the lakes and a weed control and native planting project would also be required.
"Obviously, there is a cost involved and we were worried about the areas becoming overgrown and weedy once fenced," Mark says. "We've done our part to look after the lakes and environment as best we can. We have a low-intensity dairy operation on the northern half, and the southern half is a dry stock unit. We don't use any urea fertiliser at all."
WRC's catchment management lead Jackson Efford said that given the efforts of local landowners and "the high ecological significance of the lakes, I was more than happy to help the Muirs coordinate a restoration project, and went about sourcing co-funding to assist getting a project underway."
The Department of Conservation, The Waikato River Authority, and the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust subsequently came to the project's assistance and are financially supporting the ongoing planting of 30,000 native plants.
The regional council has also chipped in towards the new fencing which stretches over three kilometres around the lakes.
"Visually the lakes look much clearer since fencing and there has been significant natural regeneration of sedges and rushes around the margins with the cattle excluded," says Jackson.
Invasive willows have also been controlled as part of the project, while farm workers are maintaining predator traps to keep down the numbers of rats and stoats, which protects wetland birds such as bittern and dabchick.
Approximately 70 acres of native bush and other wetlands have been fenced off on the property to allow regeneration.
The Te Whangai Trust, a local nursery and educational enterprise, has grown most of the new plants and is contracted to do the planting. The nearby community-run Awhitu Landcare Group nursery has also provided some trees.
Ngati te Ata kaumatua, George Flavell, who has led karakia (blessings) prior to the fencing and planting works being undertaken, says he is pleased that the lakes are being so well cared for by the Muirs.
The Muirs are very grateful for the help and advice offered by Jackson Efford of the Waikato Regional Council, without whose efforts a project of this size would have been impossible. Also, John Walter of the Te Whangai Trust who supplied most of the plants and oversaw the planting.