Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery (CETWR) in Palmerston North's Victoria Esplanade is a unique experience, giving New Zealanders and international visitors a rare opportunity to engage with the stewardship of our native taonga. There’s nothing else quite like it in Aotearoa.
CETWR opened its doors to the public in February 2019 as part of ‘Explore Esplanade’, a PNCC community event. It comprises breeding and inflight walkthrough aviaries and nine rehabilitation aviaries surrounding the PowerCo Education Centre. Visitors can watch Wildbase Hospital rehabilitation technicians in action and learn the story of each patient – injuries, treatment and recovery. In 6 months, 42,000 visitors have passed through the gates – roughly 250 people per day. 45 school groups, including Kura Kaupapa Māori, have visited – over 2,000 tamariki learning about our taonga and their unique natural world. 41 patients have been admitted, and most importantly, 31 have so far been successfully released back into the wild.
The Education Centre takes manuhiri on a journey through displays and interactive and tangible ways to learn about animal welfare and conservation. The design team conceived and designed all narrative, spatial, furniture, graphic, illustrative and interactive content within the education centre and around the wider facility. A great deal of creative interpretation was used to express the established brand on an environmental scale.
Working alongside mana whenua, Rangitāne o Manawatū, our narrative strategist and education specialist shaped concepts, ideas, whakataukī, and stories of heritage and sense of place. The facility is proudly and entirely bilingual, with all signage, environmental graphics, interactive and tangible games developed in both Te Reo Māori and English. The space’s narrator, the now extinct Huia, is represented by a flock installation, facing the direction of its last known sighting. A short animated film, narrated in Te Reo Māori by a Rangitāne wāhine, introduces visitors to the facility and sets the tone.
Throughout the design process, local expertise was brought together wherever possible, with most furniture fabrication and graphic output sourced from within the region. Funds and services to build the facility were crowd-funded or donated in-kind by the local community and national conservation advocates. The community investment in the success of this facility is enormous, and so far, 62 (and counting) volunteers have signed up to help however they can.
CETWR continues to inspire the wider community, with plans afoot by a local business to digitally map the facility, enabling users to experience it virtually, perhaps by clicking on aviaries to view live feeds from within, or accessing digital games by clicking on the tables. This widens the scope for our design narratives to be enjoyed nationally and globally, enabling people to act on and share the conservation message, and continue the kaitiakitanga of our native taonga.
CETWR provides a new attraction for the city, but most of all it brings a new lease of life to the Esplanade and an enhanced sense of identity to the Manawatū community, shaping and creating new connections with our natural world.