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Alexander is a videoJournalist in the Palmerston North/Whanganui region for NZH Local Focus

Local Focus: The tower above Taihape

Christmas has come early for the gumboot capital of the world, as Mt Stewart Reserve officially opens its new scenic lookout.

The first viewing tower was built in 1981, but four years ago, a fire ripped through the reserve destroying the tower.

Friends of Mt Stewart is a voluntary society responsible for erecting the new tower with the help of the wider community.

But there's much more to the reserve than just the lookout as Friends of Mt Stewart have spent years restoring the native forest in the reserve.

Don Tantrum, Chairman of Friends of Mt Stewart says one of the special elements of the reserve is its proximity to the township.

"You can walk to this reserve in about three minutes from the centre of Taihape, so it's very close and it's got some magnificent big old trees, 500-1000 years old," Tantrum said. "And there wouldn't be many places that have a reserve as close to its town as this."

The tower was named after local legend, Les Thurston who's spent more time caring for the reserve than anyone can remember.

"It was a bit of a shock I'll tell you that," Thurston said. "My eyesight is not too good, but I can imagine someone with good eyesight would appreciate it [the lookout]."

Tantrum said the amount of time Thurston gave to the reserve is commendable.

"He worked in here for many years as a retirement project and he did a huge amount of work. It's a way the community can recognise him for it," Trantum said.

The tower cost around $40,000 to build and was supposed to be finished before last winter but mother nature had different ideas.

"It got too wet and the access up here is not good," Tantrum said. "We've had tractors up here and the people who have driven them weren't driving up here again/ It's pretty steep and pretty heavy going down. So we ended up lifting [the tower] on with a helicopter and all the material apart from the poles."

The Rangitikei Mayor, Andy Watson was there to help with official opening duties. He says the reserve is his favourite place to visit when he's passing through.

"Mt Stewart is such a special place for Taihape. Just come up here and look at the view. This is part of the New Zealand's hinterland, it's the vast animal breeding centre of New Zealand," Watson said.

Friends of Mt Stewart have even bigger ambitions for their prized reserved, as the Chairman wants to go sky high in the trees.

"I'd like to put one of those skywalks in here through the bush, because it's really close to SH1 and most of them are miles away from anywhere," Tantrum said. "And people can stop, let their kids out for 10 minutes and let them do a sky walk in the tops of the trees."

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- NZ Herald

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