(L-R): DOC Biodiversity Rangers Jen Haslam and Catherine Brimecombe, with the Invercargill Prison industries Manager Barry, testing out the new play centre, during installation.The Good to Grow partnership between Corrections and the Department of Conservation has resulted in Punanga Manu o Te Anau (Te Anau Bird Sanctuary) becoming a more interactive and educational experience for visiting families.

The sanctuary is home to a range of native insects and plant species. Visitors get a unique, free opportunity to learn about the local environment and ecosystem, and see some of Aotearoa’s rarer birds - including takahē, kākā and pāteke/brown teal on the shore of Lake Te Anau.

Invercargill Prison Painting Instructor Jody says around 12 men from the prison’s carpentry and industry training have been involved in the project. They designed, painted and constructed a new play shelter, signage and hands-on educational activities at the site.

“The men’s efforts can be seen all over the sanctuary,” says Jody. “Their work has an artistic aspect, including creating a range of animal, insect and plant cut-outs of local butterflies and bug species for the new interactive play centre at the sanctuary.”

The new activities have now been in place for just over two months, and the Te Anau community and their feathery friends at Punanga Manu o Te Anau are already reaping the rewards of the men’s efforts.

“Everything the Ara Poutama Aotearoa team made for us has been brilliant and is in use every day!” says Department of Conservation Biodiversity Ranger Catherine Brimecombe. “We’ve also just finished a workshop with local children, painting them in wonderful colours to brighten up our play centre, while learning about our local natives.”

The colourful birds, butterflies and bugs will now have relevant poems added to their other sides by Department of Conservation staff, before returning to the play centre to entertain and inform visitors.

“We started this project just before Christmas 2021,” says Jody. “So, it’s great to see everything finally installed and being used at the reserve.”

Jody says he worked with everyone’s strengths for this project, giving the men with a background in art the task of drawing and painting bird shapes while putting those with building skills to work on the construction of the signage and playhouse. Others with less experience have been given more entry-level tasks, such as priming wood and assembling the final projects.

“The men jump at the opportunity to do this sort of work,” he says. “It offers them a chance to give back to the community – and they are very proud of what they have achieved. One of them was asking about when it was due to be installed, as he wanted to ring his family to tell them to go and see it.”

As part of this project, the men learn skills they can use find employment upon release, alongside critical soft skills, which Jody says are a key focus.

“While I’m a painting instructor and that’s my background, I’m aware not all of these guys are going to go and become painters on release. So, our main focus is teaching them soft skills – time management, interpersonal skills and problem solving. Because no matter what they end up doing, they’ll need those skills.”

The Department of Conservation team hopes the experience will also help local people to take a special interest in their backyards, to recognise, appreciate and learn more about the Te Anau ecosystem, so they can protect and nurture these creatures, and avoid spraying them or damaging their homes.

Punanga Manu o Te Anau is set of the shores of Lake Te Anau, a 15-minute walk from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. It is open to the public from dawn to dusk, with free entry (donations encouraged).

New signage in place at the Sanctuary.
Play centre shapes, under construction at Invercargill Prison.
Freshly painted by local tamariki, the shapes will now have poems added to them, before returning to the Sanctuary’s play centre!