Paramata Lodge West Coast luxury accommodation - - a wilderness b&b surrounded by natural forestry


Celebrating Conservation: An Evening at Government House

In the heart of New Zealand’s West Coast, amidst the towering native forests and vibrant wetlands, lies Paramata Lodge—a sanctuary for both guests and the environment we call home. Today, I’m thrilled to share a glimpse into a remarkable experience that unfolded over the last year, one that highlights the power of conservation and community.

It all began with an unexpected honor: the prestigious Old Blue Award, recognizing my volunteer contributions to conservation efforts along the rugged West Coast. Little did I know, this accolade would lead to an unforgettable invitation—a private birthday party at Government House, hosted by the Right Honourable Dame Cindy Kiro, Governor General of New Zealand and representative of the King.

Kathy Gilbert all dressed up.

Picture this: Wellington’s grandeur, a celebration steeped in history, and a guest list brimming with champions of conservation. The party was to celebrate the 100 year Centenary of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand.

Clad in my finest attire, magenta formal dress, matching necklace, delicate shoes and borrowed nail polish, I stepped into Government House in Wellington, a flutter of excitement in my chest. From the first welcome to the final farewell, the evening was nothing short of extraordinary.

Inside Government House with Kate Graeme, Nichola Toki Credit: Mark Cootes Photography

Amidst the swirl of conversation, clinking glasses and intricate melodies from a chamber trio, I had the chance to talk with likeminded people, some who I’ve known for many years and some I was meeting for the first time — individuals who share our passion for safeguarding the natural wonders of our beloved natural environment in New Zealand.

While it was lovely to catch up with old friends, I recognized the significance of this gathering as a platform to advocate for our cherished West Coast and seized the opportunity to raise critical discussions about the future of our environment.

Dame Cindy and Dr Davies with the official F&B party Group Photo (VIP table): Joe Harawira (Kaumatua), Kate Graeme (F&B Board Dep Chair), Nicola Toki (F&B Chief Exec), Dame Cindy Kiro (NZ Gov Gen), Dr Richard Davies (Gov Gen husband), Joan Leckie (QSM F&B Distinguished Life Mem), Jessica Lamb (F&B Youth Director) Credit: Mark Cootes Photography

You see, every visit to Paramata Lodge is more than a getaway—it’s a commitment to conservation. Our guests’ support fuels our efforts to protect and preserve this pristine landscape, ensuring its beauty endures for generations to come. And so, in the halls of Government House, I spoke not only for myself but for each of you who believes in the power of sustainability and stewardship.

Now was the time to talk to critical people about the future prospects for indigenous biodiversity on the West Coast if Fast Tracked Legislation was to go ahead as proposed by the current coalition government.

The message is simple but urgent: no new coal mines on Public Conservation land. No new fast tracked legislation that removes democracy from our country. No to climate change deniers.

Amidst the glamour of the party, my focus remained steadfast on the pressing matters at hand. The declined Waitaha River hydro proposal, for example, could be overturned by this government. I was the only person in the whole room that understood this river: my neighbour, my river, my home, my business, my place. With no voice of its own, I had to speak up.

It was an amazing evening. There were speeches and a performance by  Rob Thorne, composer, performer and improvisor of Maori flute music. I felt grateful and enchanted.

Usually the host of Paramata Lodge, it was a welcome treat to be catered for. The dinner was thoughtful: a beautiful 3-course dinner of venison, salmon then mango mousse, all paired with wines.

As the evening unfolded, I found myself seated beside the eldest living son of Captain Val Sanderson, a pioneer in the conservation movement and founder of Forest and Bird, who began the society in March 1923. In that moment, I felt a profound sense of connection to a legacy that stretches back decades—a legacy of resilience, determination, and a deep love for our natural world.

I was photographed with Ann Graeme, a Distinguished Life Member who played a huge role in the development of the KCC (Kids Conservation Club) and leading it for more than 20 years. Credit: Mark Cootes Photography

To Dame Cindy Kiro and Forest and Bird New Zealand, I extend my heartfelt gratitude for this unforgettable experience. Together, may we continue to champion the cause of conservation, standing as guardians of the land we hold dear.

If you would like to join us on this journey of exploration, conservation, and a shared commitment to preserving the beauty of the West Coast for generations to come, come and stay at Paramata Lodge.