Copyright Natural Habitats 2016

Te Wao Nui – Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Showpiece

Te Wao Nui – Auckland Zoo’s New Zealand Showpiece

zOn the surface, creating a piece of New Zealand within New Zealand, doesn’t sound particularly difficult. But consider you have 17 hectares to showcase all of New Zealand’s diverse flora, fauna, animals and culture and you’re starting to get a handle on the challenge that confronted Auckland Zoo and Natural Habitats. The Te Wao Nui project, first conceived in the early 90’s was completed last year, and was one of the more unique projects we’ve worked on.

Curiously, New Zealand animals appear to share the same characteristics as New Zealand teenagers – in that they’re quiet, secretive, and usually only active at night. Therefore the design had to be capable of engaging visitors even when they couldn’t see any animals. To do this, the Te Wao Nui project would be divided into 5 unique areas that each represent a different aspect of New Zealand’s natural landscape. The coast, the island sanctuary, the wetlands, the forest, and the highlands all required different species of flora that were sourced from all across New Zealand. The five areas also feature over a dozen piece of Maori artwork, which provide continuity and tie the areas together.

Attention to detail in the construction process was of paramount importance, every material used was carefully chosen, to ensure it would be conducive to a happy home for the animals. For example, no developing plants could be used, as they would be torn out by the world’s most destructive bird – the kea. In addition, pebbles were chosen, as other varieties could hurt the feet of the blue ducks.

Not being huge fans of walking unprotected through lion enclosures, the construction process presented further logistical challenges around site access, particularly for the 9 tonnes of rock that needed to be transported to the site. To overcome these challenges, we worked collaboratively with Auckland Zoo and site designers Logan Brewer to create a space that recently won the 2012 landscape of the year award.

Ultimately this project was about creating a showpiece that encapsulated New Zealand’s natural beauty and diversity. To be a part of it’s creation was an honour. As New Zealanders, we all take great pride in the beauty that our country has been blessed with and to have an opportunity to showcase it, albeit a compact version, to the people who visit our country, and Auckland Zoo, was a true privilege.