Highfield Garden Reserve - Donkeys With A View

A stunning sea-view property holds one of Algies Bay’s best kept secrets – a special garden for a family of donkeys and their dedicated guardians. And it’s open to the public all year around.

Alison and Ted Roberts had been running a flower growing and orchard business on the land for many years and were passionate about their donkeys. In 1985, the land along with its donkeys was gifted to public ownership, for all Kiwis to enjoy. 

When Ted and Alison passed away it was decided, with the Roberts family’s blessing, to form an incorporated society owned by the community and run by volunteers. The society currently has 162 members paying $10 each per year.

Peter Caccia-Birch is the manager of Highfields Donkeys and leads the team at Highfield Garden Reserve, in partnership with Council. 

After managing a large hill-country farm in Wellsford, Peter moved to Snells Beach on his retirement. 

“I live right next to Highfield Gardens. I was never one to just sit around and watch TV, so I started helping Alison in the reserve.”

Peter visits the donkeys every day, feeding hay through winter, and for the past ten years organises the weekly working bees on Tuesday mornings. He is grateful for the support from volunteers that help care for the donkeys and gardens. 

“Our groomers are doing a wonderful job, brushing the donkeys and picking out their feet, which is essential for their health.”

The gardening team is very busy at this time of the year. Council supplies the park with native plants, mulch is donated, and it’s up to the volunteers to plant and maintain the gardens. 

All the donkeys are born and bred in the park. They all have names starting with the letter T,
in honour of Ted Roberts. The latest foal, Tilly, was born in January. 

“We love donkeys because they’ve all got their own cute character. They live for 30-40 years and are very forgiving and easy-care,” says Peter.

Whilst the local community often refer to the park as the Donkey Sanctuary, it’s actually not a rescue-facility. 

“Because the land is open to the public 24/7, unfortunately, we are not able to welcome sick donkeys, or new animals that we don’t know the behaviour of,” says Peter.

The reserve contains several short walking tracks with views of Kawau Bay. The orchard has a large variety of fruit trees, including mandarins, peaches, and an enormous pear tree. Excess
fruit is gifted to the local retirement home or
back to the community, through the newly
set-up free fruit and vegetable stand by the Mahurangi Library. 

“We encourage children to pick up the windfall apples in the orchard and feed to the donkeys,” Peter says.

Highfield Garden Reserve hosts open days twice a year - one in March and one for Christmas. Santa comes for a few songs and there are donkey-rides and games for children in the orchards, with Council providing a BBQ and other facilities. 

The public are welcome to visit the donkeys at any time and bring them healthy treats like carrots, silver beet and apples. They also hold a working bee every Tuesday at 9am and are seeking more volunteers to help with donkey grooming, orchard maintenance and in-season planting and pruning. 

Peter - 021 168 9698

Highfield Garden Reserve, Mahurangi East Road

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