Views of Kapiti 4: Maungakotukutuku Valley

This morning, Carter and I had some time to kill before his first ever appointment with the dental nurse, so we went for a drive up Maungakotukutuku Road,* south-east of Paraparaumu [click here to view location]. This is narrow, windy road, best taken very slowly and carefully (especially in a Kia Picanto!), so it was a good time of day to explore it. The low cloud and light, misty rain added to the sense of mystery and adventure.

What was most striking about this road was the variety of landscapes and land-uses along it: the road begins with small farms and lifestyle blocks tucked away up long winding drives, interspersed with blocks of plantation forest – mainly radiata pine; regenerating bush is apparent on some of the lifestyle or farm blocks and underneath the less mature plantation forest.

Finally, about three kilometres along the road, the Akatarawa Forest, indigenous forest maintained by the regional council mainly for public recreation, appears.

This forest is far from virgin – few of the larger trees remain, having been logged by numerous small sawmilling operations in the first two decades of the 20th century. But far from detracting from the landscape, for me, this adds to its history and mystique. Indeed, the forest is – literally – filled with history: old tram lines (used to transport logs out of the forest – see Discovering environmental history in surprising places); trucks and discarded machinery can still be discovered among the trees and undergrowth. The occasional tall tree stands out from the prevailing canopy – creating a melancholy silhouette against the forest [see above right], and hinting at a much grander canopy which once clothed these hills, barely containing a cacophony of bird song that would have rung out over the valley.

And like any other forest in New Zealand – the Akatawara boasts pre-European history as well. Maori trails through the forest were used to travel between the Hutt Valley and the Kapiti Coast, and Maori hunted and gathered foods under its canopy.

Today, the road is a source of some controversy: mixed uses also brings tensions. A forestry company has applied to the local council for resource consents to mill and truck out timber, but residents have grave concerns about the safety of large vehicles using narrow windy roads [click here to read newspaper report]. It is unclear how this conflict will be resolved.

But it was hard to imagine today that this landscape was the source of such tension: the leisurely burbling of the Maungakotukuku Stream layered over bird song, and the diversely textured layers of green, veiled by lightly falling rain, gave no hint of underlying tensions – instead providing welcome respite from the hubbub of town and impending dental nurse appointments.

*”Maunga” means mountain or hill, while “kotukutuku” means tree fuschia.

Photo top: The north-eastern boundary of the Akatawara Forest, viewed from Perhams Road. Maungakotukutuku Stream can be seen in the foreground. Above right: A solitary survivor of the milling of the forest 100 years ago, smothered with kiekie and other epiphytes, cuts a slightly melancholy figure above the canopy. Above left: Mixed use; mixed landscapes: native bush regenerates on the hills to the left of this farmlet, while immature radiata pine forest can be seen on the right. (Photos by C. Knight.)

See also: This is part of a sporadic series of “Views of Kapiti”. The others in the series are:  Views of Kapiti 1: Swamp Road; Views of Kapiti 2: Waikanae River wetland restoration; Views of Kapiti 3: Wharemauku Stream.

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