Farmscape near Piripiri in the upper Pohangina Valley East Road

Farmscape near Piripiri in the upper Pohangina Valley. Photo: C. Knight

On the same trip on which we met the “horse for sale” (see previous post), we also passed through the Pohangina Valley, travelling from north to south.

Like Apiti, the upper Pohangina Valley is characterised by small settlements which are often more evident on the map than they are in reality: places such as Utuwai, Umutoi and Komako. Looking at early survey plans, it appears that the vision for these places was somewhat more substantial than what eventuated.

Much of the reason for this can be found in the environment. The topography is uncompromisingly hilly, and with numerous streams and tributaries contributing to mountain-fed rivers, likely to have been prone to sudden and treacherous flood surges, particularly once hill forest had been destroyed. But the real challenge for those seeking to make a living from the land would have been distance: from railway and road infrastructure (even today the road from Apiti is unsealed), and major towns.

Today, much of the more northern area of the valley has reverted to indigenous bush – demonstrating that the challenge became too much for many. The landscape therefore has a wild and untamed feeling that makes it uncharacteristic of the Manawatu region.

Post Office at Piripiri, c 1897 – 1900. Photographed by C.E. Wildbore. Palmerston North City Library, digitisation ID no.: 2007N_Poh36_RTL_0856

Given these challenges, one is all the more impressed by those who continue to make a living from what must be a challenging environment. This “farmscape” near Piripiri impressed me with its evidence of diversification: the flats were dedicated to pastoral sheep and beef farming, with plantation forestry in the immediate background. Behind that, hill pasture, most likely dedicated to either sheep or sheep and cattle, and beyond that regenerating native forest, and the Ruahine Ranges themselves.

I wonder what these Piripiri locals, gathered in front of the post office (long since vanished) at the end of last century, would have made of the landscape.