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Episode 13: Natural Wonders

Perry Reid on his Otago Peninsula farm. Photo by Dan Henry.

Seals on the Reids' Otago Peninsula farm. Photo by Dan Henry.

Originally screened on May 8 at 7pm on TV ONE.

Watch this episode now at Ondemand.

Nature's Wonders

Otago Peninsula farmer Perry Reid is passionate about looking after the birds and seals that he shares his land with, so he's turned a big chunk of his coastal farm into a wildlife sanctuary.

The Reid family bought the 200 hectare property near Portobello 10 years ago.

Perry says it needed a lot of work. "It was like starting a project from scratch," he says. "There was hardly a fence that held a sheep and gorse was a major issue - it was five metres high in places".

But hard work has put paid to that.  Along with their children, the Reids have tamed the gorse, and last year they planted over 17,000 trees - the start of a reserve that they hope will become a native forest filled with bird life.

When Perry took the property over, he could see nature was under threat. So from day one he had a plan to give the wildlife a leg-up, without interfering with the natural order.

"The plan wasn't to create something, it was to give it back and let nature create its own story," he says. "What I'm doing is giving it the canvas, and nature's painting the picture."

Perry can sum up his plan in two words - hands off. Where some similar conservation ventures handle the wildlife for weighing and tagging, the Reids do not. 

And it seems to work. When the Reids arrived, there were just 17 breeding pairs of yellow-eyed penguins on the farm's main beach - but 10 years on, that number's grown to 60 pairs.

This farm was running minimal stock numbers when they took over, but that's all changed.  Last year, they wintered 1500 Perendales, but they've now cut this number back till they can develop more land and can feed them better.

They've boosted their lambing percentage to around 130%, but given the amount they've spend on re-developing the land, even that's not enough to make the farm a paying proposition.

So Perry had the idea of a small tourist business to supplement their farming income, capitalising on the natural beauty of the place and sharing the rural life and wildlife with visitors.

It's grown beyond his imagination. Tourists from all over the world now arrive at the Reid's front door to get face-to-face with some of the rarest penguins in the world. At the height of the season, the Perry and his wife Tracey employ up to 30 staff - tour guides, cafe staff and even a mechanic to maintain the 14 specially-imported all-terrain vehicles that transport visitors around the farm's tracks to see the sights.

Because the wildlife have never been handled or tagged, they have no fear of their human on-lookers. A colony of spotted shags living on the edge of a cliff have the tourists spell-bound, but the fur seals next door - particularly the pups - are a favourite with sight-seers.

But the yellow-eyed penguins are the stars of the show. Waddling up the beach, oblivious to the coach-load of onlookers above, they're living proof that Perry's strategy of not interfering with the creatures is a winner.

So are they tour operators or farmers? It's obvious tourism is the more lucrative, but Perry insists money's not the motivation.

"The farm is obviously worth a lot of money, and if this was money I was doing it for, I'd just sell it and go and sit on a beach in Hawaii," he says.

"But that's not what I want.  I want to leave a legacy for my children and your great grandchildren.  I want something we can leave the earth."

More info
Nature's Wonders - Perry Reid's website