Muehlenbeckia at Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary. Anna Yeoman
A surprise encounter with a gecko in her telephone book drawer was one of Rach Baxter’s only experiences of the lizard life in Central Otago. Although she was born and bred here, like most people she had little idea of the diverse community of local lizards that are native to this area.
“I’m a little ashamed to admit my interest in reptiles was ignited while I was living in Australia,” she says. They were so numerous there, and not at all shy. When she returned to New Zealand and read about the Central Otago Ecological Trust’s work with local lizards, she decided it would be a great opportunity to learn more about her local fauna.
Since 2010 she has been involved as a volunteer with Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary, helping with weed removal and a few lizard releases.
From here, her interest has extended to native dryland plants. “All life depends on plants and we can’t expect to be able to attract our native animals back to our land without the basic building blocks they need to survive - food and shelter,” says Rach. She volunteers regularly at Haehaeata, the Clyde Railhead Eco-Nursery, where they collect seed from remnant plant populations in the local hills and grow dryland natives for local revegetation projects.
Rach out for a training run on the Routeburn Track. Credit: Steve Mackie
Rach loves being in the outdoors, and enjoys sharing it with her son, daughter and her husband, when he can be persuaded to join them. She works part-time in accounts administration, and also volunteers at her children’s school helping with the vegetable garden. “With any free time I have left I’m outdoors in the hills supposedly training for one event or other, but mostly these days taking plant photos!” she laughs.
She hopes that more people will become aware of the uniqueness of our flora and fauna. “They’re very diverse. It’s really quite amazing in such a climatically tough environment.” While she admits our dryland plants don’t have large eye catching flowers to attract people’s attention, she thinks they make up for it with scented blooms and colourful berries.
How does Mokomoko fit into all this? “It is hard to imagine what Central was like pre human occupation,” Rach says, “and while we can never hope to go back to such a time, it would be fantastic to be able to have areas where we can get a glimpse of what it could have been like.”
“With any free time I have left I’m outdoors in the hills supposedly training for one event or other, but mostly these days taking plant photos!”
Rach (right) releases a jewelled gecko at Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary in 2018.
Photo: Grant Norbury