Children in the town belt

Your Outdoor Classroom

Nau mai, haere mai.

Welcome to Town Belt Kaitiaki

Town Belt Kaitiaki (TBK) is a student-led education programme for Dunedin schools and early childhood centres. The purpose of the programme is to help young people grow to value and understand the significance of the Town Belt and its mauri (life force), and learn how to sustain and care for our natural environment as kaitiaki (guardians). Empowering them to make a difference in their community right now, as part of their school curriculum.

“Our vision is to better the Dunedin Town Belt, and creatively engage, inspire & empower young people to become environmental kaitiaki.” – Student Leadership Team

The Town Belt – Your Outdoor Classroom

Did you know that there are only three Victorian Era Town Belts in the world? One of them is right here in our very own backyard, the Dunedin Town Belt. Spanning 202 hectares of forest and parkland, the Town Belt is a unique biodiversity, historical and cultural hot spot at the heart of our city. 

Although it is a protected space, the Town Belt has been used by people in many ways over the years. Miners camped there during the gold rush, farmers cleared land and grazed cattle, and buildings have been erected and pulled down all over the place – including a scarlet fever hospital, army barracks, and even a mental asylum!

Thankfully, despite becoming extremely fragmented and modified, the forest of the Town Belt remains a very important wildlife corridor connecting the two sides of Otago Harbour. With kākā, robin and other native birds starting to move beyond Orokonui Ecosanctuary, the Town Belt could one day again be home to some of our most threatened species.

But first, it needs a little help – and that’s where schools come in.

Almost 30 schools and early childhood centres are within walking distance of the Town Belt. We see this as a unique opportunity for many Dunedin students and children to use the Town Belt as an ‘outdoor’ classroom, and work alongside community experts and educators to help to protect it and ensure it remains a healthy space for plants, animals and people to enjoy.

Town Belt History – Then & Now

Before Europeans settled in Dunedin, the Town Belt was part of a much larger ngahere (forest). However, between 1848-1900 there was considerable pressure on the reserve from quarrying, farming, timber removal, squatting and urban development (houses and roads). So now, in the 21st century, all that remains is a fragment of the forested areas that once stood around Dunedin.

Did you know?

Maori sometimes referred to the hills above the city as te au (mist or fog) and an area of great significance to Maori was the Toitū stream. The point at which Toitū once flowed into the harbour was the shoreline settlement area known as Ōtepoti.

Children learning in the town belt

Nature Play in the Town Belt

Nature play enables young people to learn about our natural environment in an organic and self-directed way. All of the early childhood centres which are part of the Town Belt Kaitiaki programme take their tamariki on weekly ‘Bush Days’. Town Belt Kaitiaki adds value by supporting each centre’s ideas, lending out equipment for activities and creating fun opportunities for Bush Day kids to connect with one another, older students and local experts.

In 2019, TBK featured in the “My Big Backyard” segment of Fanimals (Whitebait Media), highlighting some aspirations that Dunedin students have for the Town Belt.

Our Strategic Partners