The Miranui flaxmill, located in the Makerua swamp just north of the Horowhenua town of Shannon, was once New Zealand’s largest flaxmill. The mill operated from 1907 to 1933, and had 19 mills, operating 42 flax-stripping machines and employing more than 700 workers during the height of the flax industry in 1916-17. (more…)

As explored in the earlier post Christchurch – a city haunted by its environmental past, Christchurch’s environmental history had serious – arguably fatal – implications in the February earthquake. As the post discussed, this related especially to the fact that much of what is now a city was once a vast swamp, comprised not only of the two rivers that still run through the city (the Avon and Heathcote), but also numerous other streams that fed an extensive wetland system. (more…)

It is with both horror and immeasurable sadness that I contemplate the tragic consequences of last Tuesday’s massive earthquake on the city that I lived in for 8 years, and which I still regard with immense affection. I cannot even begin to imagine how life must be like for its residents today, especially those who have friends or family who have perished. (more…)

This view, facing east along the Waikanae River just east of the Otaihanga Domain, is of a restored wetland – part of a wider regeneration project along this part of the Waikanae River. Viewed from this angle, with the bush-covered Waikanae hills in the background, it is possible to get some sense of how this part of Kapiti would have looked before it was cleared for farms and settlements in the late 19th century. (more…)

Our environmental history is littered with the stories of wetlands that were drained to make way for farmland or settlements. But in the Wellington region, there is a rare example of a substantial wetland that survived this onslaught. It is an example of how – paradoxically – an environment’s utility as a source of a commercial resource can sometimes provide for its preservation.

Over the last 150 years there were a number of attempts to drain the swamp for farming, but these attempts succeeded in only partially draining the swamp. (more…)

Papaitonga is a dune lake in the Horowhenua coastal plain. It is surrounded by a very rare remnant of coastal north island forest. Just south of Levin, the 135 hectare Papaitonga Scenic Reserve is a little known but ecologically and historically remarkable place [click here to view map].

The reserve contains the only intact sequence from wetland to mature dry terrace forest in Wellington and Horowhenua. It is an important refuge for birds that depend on wetlands or lowland forests for their survival. Papaitonga is home to waterfowl and wading birds as well as forest species on the lake’s margins. However, like many remnant wetland forests, the health of this wetland forest is threatened by a receding water table. The reserve is surrounded by farmland which draws on large volumes of water for irrigation. (more…)

Through time, not only has our environment been transformed, but also the way we perceive it and the words we use to describe it. No example illustrates this better than the “swamp” to “wetland” transformation. When European settlement of New Zealand began in earnest about 150 years ago, about 670,000 hectares of freshwater wetlands existed. By the 20th century, this had been reduced to 100,000 hectares. (more…)

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