Ōrākei Enviro Forum 2022: Water

Presenting the award, Margaret Voyce thanked Christ Barfoot for serving as “an inspirational figure both in our local community and beyond our borders”.

Enviro Award for “tireless and inspirational” Chris Barfoot

Chris Barfoot has been presented with the Orākei Local Board’s 2022 Environment Award for a life-time of championing the environment, and especially for his instrumental role in the rescue and rehabilitation of Tahuna Torea.

The award — a toki pounamu — ethically sourced from Ngai Tahu and blessed by Ngāti Whātua Õrākei, was presented to Chris by OLB member Margaret Voyce at the 2022 Enviro-Forum  on May 29.  Its axe-head shape was particularly fitting because even now, at the age of 91, Chris Barfoot still gets out with his tools to clear tracks, dig out weeds and do whatever else needs to be done in the wetland reserve to which he’s committed thousands of hours of hard mahi.

In her speech, Margaret Voyce recalled an impressive number of Chris’s accomplishments, including  being Dux of Auckland Grammar and an Oxford MA, going on all sorts of outdoor adventures with his family, tramping in the wilderness and — probably the achievement most people would associate with his name — having a 40-year career with real estate company Barfoot & Thompson during which he built up two hugely successful branches (St Heliers and Remuera).

To Cape Reinga by bike

Born to British parents who emigrated to New Zealand, Chris was encouraged to explore the countryside with his brothers, going tramping, biking and boating. At the age of 12, he cycled from Auckland to Cape Reinga on his own. These beginning set Chris up with substantial physical strength and a love of the outdoors. 

“This, combined with enormous energy and a desire to make the world a better place, means that wherever he goes, he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work,” Margaret said. “Invite him to visit and he’ll be out in your garden tackling the weeds in no time.”

Chris met and married Pat and they bought their home in West Tamaki Road in 1970. They both instantly fell in love with the wild beauty of the Glendowie Sandspit. It was really just abandoned farmland covered in blackberry, gorse and many other weeds, but its lagoon and mudflats were a glorious magnet for wading birds.

Reserve, not landfill

In 1972, the council proposed using the area as a landfill site.Chris, Ronald Lockley and other neighbours bot together, combined forces with the existing Tamaki Estuary Protection Society (TEPS), and organised a public meeting to propose a nature reserve rathe than a rubbish tip. With overwhelming public support, the reserve plan was accepted. In 1973 Chris became chairman of TEPS, a position he held until1988, remaining on the committee until 2020.

Throughout those five decades, Pat Barfoot has been Chris’s “essential supporter and an active champion herself,” Margaret Voyce said.  “She has hosted countless meetings of the TEPS committee, the rangers’ committee and other groups. She also provided refreshments for the residents attending Tree Day for several decades.

“Chris has worked tirelessly to transform this wasteland into the lush forest it is now,” Margaret said.” Chris was chairman of the rangers’ committee for about 40 years, organising work parties with other locals to tackle weeds and improve paths, and liaising with the Council to plan and run community planting days.” 

In the 1980s, following a chemical fire further up the river, which caused devastating pollution, Chris Barfoot and  TEPS launched a campaign to tackle pollution in the estuary. This led to many years of work and an action committee representing local authorities and other groups that has become TEEF (Tamaki Estuary Environmental Forum).

Chris also campaigned for other nature reserves along the banks of the estuary, including Wai O Taiki Reserve and Point England Reserve.

Story and picture by Jan Power.