TODAY |

Hunter discovers cluster of incredibly rare kākābeak trees in Hawke's Bay

Deep in the New Zealand hinterland is a tree that's so rare, only a handful of people have ever seen one.

Your playlist will load after this ad

According to the Department of Conservation, there’s only around 120 of them left in the wild. Source: Seven Sharp

Ngutukākā, or kākābeak, is on the verge of extinction, with only about 120 left in the wild.

That was until hunter Wayne Looney stumbled across not one, but four, in the bush.

Looney has been culling goats for 20 years now and he's definitely seen some things, including a dinosaur bone by the Mohaka River.

While out on the job recently, he found something else unusual.

"When I found it... there were goats on the slip above it. I was hunting and shooting those," he told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp.

"I found the plant afterwards. It was only because of the red flowers I saw."

There are only 123 ngutukākā left in the wild. They're extremely tasty - the Department of Conservation calls them the "ice cream plant".

Deer, goats, rats and hares will devour them, along with snails and slugs.

It's ranked as nationally critical. The next step after that is extinction.

But the Department of Conservation says there could be even more down the gully.

The Upper Mangaone Stream is deep in Hawke's Bay hinterland. It's at least two hours from Napier, then off the beaten track for a while.

The headwaters of the Mangaone Stream resemble a mighty medieval fortress. Sheer cliffs on all sides make accessibility all but impossible. 

The stream running through the middle of it is a perilous moat.

To top it all off you're so far from anywhere it makes the wopwops look like Queen Street.

In short, the perfect place for a rare botanical treasure to survive the onslaught of modernity.

Finding a ngutukākā is no good if you don't know what they look like. But by pure luck, Looney did.

"I found them at Lake Waikaremoana and down at Mohaka," he says.

For every 20 ngutukākā that exist in the world, Looney has found one of them. Essentially, he's discovered more than five per cent of the global ngutukākā population.

Today Pamu Farms are forking out to get a bit of fencing done down into the gully, with a helicopter coming in to get the gear down to protect the trees. 

Meanwhile, Looney has earned his keep, the hunter who's starting to look more like an ecological steward: enemy of the goat, but protector of the forest.