Rotorua nature park Rainbow Springs is celebrating its 85th birthday this March.
Back in 1929, Rainbow Springs consisted mostly of swampland – there were no trout pools and very little in the way of trees or ferns.
Today, the 22 acres of native trees and bush is home to some of New Zealand's most iconic reptile and bird species, as well as the country's largest and most successful kiwi conservation centre, Kiwi Encounter.
When founder Ted Bruce bought the land in 1929 he envisaged something quite different for the site, which at the time was a run-down dairy farm.
He and his team spent hours, often in cold, muddy conditions, digging out a hole for what is now the Rainbow Pool. They also planted hundreds of trees and ferns, before opening the park to the public in December 1932.
Like the flora and fauna within it, Rainbow Springs continues to evolve and develop with the times.
No one knows more about the changes at Rainbow Springs than Park Warden Ray Punter, who started working at the park 45 years ago shortly after arriving to New Zealand from Africa.
“We once had pheasants, doves, deer and pigs. At different times we also had donkeys, stoats and Pacific rats called kiore. Now Rainbow Springs offers more entertainment – we have the Big Splash ride, children's playground and new play installations.”
Ray says he has stayed at Rainbow Springs for so long because he loves being outside.
“It's the environment I'm working in, I'm outdoors in the fresh air, in amongst the trees and ferns, trout pools and birds. It doesn't matter if the sun is shining, it's blowing a gale or it's raining, as long as I'm outside I'm happier.”
“It's wonderful to see what we've achieved over the last 85 years, and we're using this occasion to look to the future,” says Rainbow Springs business manager David Hennigan.
“We plan to keep enhancing and developing the experience to ensure we continue to be relevant for the next 85 years.
“We recently added six unique playscapes to the experience including a waterplay area and we will soon be upgrading some of our buildings, introducing more encounters and guided excursions and doing a refresh of some of our core experiences such as the Kiwi Encounter and the Big Splash.”
To celebrate Rainbow Springs' 85th birthday, they will be welcoming kōkopu (giant kōkopu) to the park. Kōkopu are a declining species of endemic Galaxiidae fish which grow to 45cm in length and will be rehomed in one of Rainbow Springs' pools.
Rainbow Springs is also opening a new whio encounter later this month, where visitors will be introduced to the rare blue ducks recently moved into the park as part of a breeding program. In addition anyone over 85 years old will receive free entry into the park for the whole of March, with annual family passes also reduced to just $85 (cheaper than a family day pass). Both offers are valid until 31 March and can be obtained at Rainbow Springs or online at rainbowsprings.co.nz using the promo code ‘85years'.