A persistent theme of the Centre for Rainforest Studies New Zealand-Australia program is elucidating connections. Like all SFS programs, there is the overarching focus on creating connections between students and their environment. The New Zealand-Australia program focuses on teaching students to compare various aspects of natural resource management in New Zealand and Australia, and draw from both course work and field work. In a recent visit to the Whatipu Scientific Reserve in New Zealand, where beach front meets the rainforest of the Waitakere Range, a variety of the connections that define the student experience were highlighted when this year’s group visited a two-year old revegetation site planted by previous SFS students.

In 2010, my SFS group participated in a field day with the Department of Conservation, a practice that is typical of the program. We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to conduct a tree planting, an event that is atypical of the chilled winter morning that graced that day. The planting took place alongside a creek that collects on the verdant Waitakere Range slopes, runs through the valley in which the reserve is located, and down to the black sand beaches on the Tasman Sea. The planting was executed with pride and satisfaction, and by the end of the day we had dug holes, fertilized, and tucked the little plants in to create a riparian revegetation zone. The restoration planting would serve as a stepping stone of native vegetation amidst the invasive grasses in the valley, connecting the unique New Zealand rain forest on the hillsides and the native vegetation that stands resolute adjacent to the coast.

When I returned to the site this year as an intern, I triumphantly walked through young Whau, cabbage trees, and tea trees nearly 2 meters high, and our thick tussocks of flax were flourishing under the coastal sun. According to park rangers, this is the most prolific tree planting they’ve ever had. Students from the 2011 program came back to the site to weed, while the 2012 student group took part in a colossal weed eradication effort further along the coast. At this restoration planting site, groups of students have witnessed the application of restoration practices, connecting lectures to field work.

Not only are we making ecological connections, and connections between knowledge and practice, but we are also creating social links. At this site I was able to share my experience with an SFS student who hails from my alma mater, Guilford College, and then turn around and talk about this tree planting and the Waitakere Ranges with an elderly couple from New Zealand and a trio of backpackers from various places in Europe. It’s invigorating to know that the labor of love on that foggy morning spent planting trees has matured into a classroom for these SFS students and all other visitors, as they walk alongside my footsteps in the black sands at Whatipu.