February 7, 2024

The people behind KMR – Brandon and Kiri Edwards’ Navigator project

Brandon and Kiri Edwards are passionate about their land and sharing the natural beauty and spirituality of it with others.

Huruiki is their whenua and the whenua of iwi and hapū. The views from the maunga are as impressive as the location itself – a location steeped in history. It is surrounded by awesome springs, some of which feed into the Kaipara Moana and from which kohu is drawn to the water often cloaking the area in mist.

Most recently there has been a beautiful waiata, ‘Huruiki, we stand with you’, composed by te whānau Mānihera. A video of the waiata was shared for the first time at Healing our Spirit Worldwide Conference 2023 in Vancouver in September, a conference at which Brandon and Kiri gave a presentation.

Brandon and Kiri are clearly driven to improve the native flora and fauna on the land surrounding Huruiki maunga and have achieved plenty in recent years, some of it by working with the Kaipara Moana Remediation (KMR) programme in more recent times.

KMR supports a small but growing number of Navigator projects. Navigator projects involve landowners or groups across the catchment who are keen to lead larger-scale or innovative sediment reduction projects and share their experience and learnings with others in their community, iwi/hapū, or sector.

Ngāherehere o Huruiki is a reforestation project aimed at restoring the native forest and unique ecosystem of Huruiki, enhancing the mauri (life force) within the forest, addressing biodiversity degradation and improving water quality. The project has planted 60,000 native trees over 20ha to date, with an aim to plant more native trees over an additional 100ha.

Through a Navigator project investment, KMR has worked with the Edwards whānau to support a project which ran from February-October 2023 to plant 5,500 trees and complete 400m of fencing on the land. The project included restoring native forests, controlling pests, improving water quality and reconnecting whānau and hapū with their maunga. A key focus was involving wider whānau and hapū in the project.

It has been quite the journey for Brandon to re-connect with the land as he had a life-long dream to one day own his ancestral land.

“I grew up around here – at Puhipuhi and Hikurangi – and my tribal connections are here through Ngāti Hau and Ngāti Wai. I have my eye on it from a very young age. Some how, some way, some time, I would get my maunga back because Huruiki is the jewel in the crown and a draw to both sides of the whakapapa,” says Brandon.

When he did, back in 2011, he surprised his whānau with the news. He picked up his Uncle (his Dad’s older brother) and drove him to Huruiki.

“During the trip, even though my Uncle was virtually blind, he was able to point out sites of significance and tell us of stories of significance. As the memories came back, the tears just flowed down his face.”

After a lengthy and successful career abroad, Brandon and Kiri have been back in Aotearoa since 2013 and see their role on the land as care givers. As kaitiaki they are looking after the land as best they can and at one point held a whānau reunion, allowing their people to stand on the maunga once again.

Says Kiri and Brandon: ”One of our things is bringing people back to the land with whānau days to help fill some of the gaps in their identities.”

It is also a beautiful and peaceful environment to raise their three children.

The pair say they never bought the 350 hectares (only 80ha is suitable for grazing their 60 Aberdeen Angus breeding cows and offspring) to farm commercially. And while not an organic farm, they do not use chemicals.

“Te Ao Māori is our farming philosophy. Our aim is finding the equilibrium with nature where we don’t need inputs. Where we co-exist with nature sustainably and don’t need to top anything up.”

Eight years since the planted their first natives on the land, they estimate they have around 100,000 more trees to plant and at last 9km of fencing to undertake to protect areas of natives from grazing.

“It has been really good working with KMR. We definitely think people should be jumping on board.”

To Brandon and Kiri, their journey is about the whole natural world, where they fit in and what a positive difference they can make to their people, to Huruiki, their immediate and wider environment – all of which will benefit the Kaipara Moana.

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