A historic day for Kapiti: the opening of Whareroa Farm

Today, the 30th April 2011, was a day of great triumph and celebration for many people in the Kapiti Coast community, with the official opening of 440 hectare Whareroa Farm Reserve, between Paraparaumu and Paekakari [click here to view location]. It is certainly not every day that a new recreational and nature reserve is opened to the public, and Whareroa Farm has only become such a reserve as a result of persistent lobbying by the local community and the ongoing work of one community-based organisation, the Whareroa Guardians Trust.

The Whareroa Farm has a varied and interesting history. Before European settlement of the area, it was the site of a Maori pā (village or settlement), and land adjacent to the pā was used for horticulture (most likely of kumara or sweet potato).

In 1850, Alexander MacKay leased the land as a farm and later purchased it. In 1941 it was passed to the Wellington Hospital Board as a likely site for a hospital. However, with the onset of World War Two, the land was instead acquired for defence purposes. In 1942, the Public Works Department built Camp MacKay on the site for United States Marine Corps training and recreation.

After the war, in 1948, it was taken over by the Lands and Survey Department, which developed it as a recreation and farm education park for public use. Over the next three decades, walking tracks were created and the farm became a popular place for school trips and open days.

In 1987, the Lands and Survey Department was disestablished, and all the land it managed across the country divided up between two newly formed organisations – the Department of Conservation, and Landcorp, a state-owned enterprise. Whareroa Farm was transferred to Landcorp, and was subsequently closed to the public.

In 2003, it was suggested that the farm was going to be sold to a developer and subdivided. This was vehemently opposed by the local community and  the Whareroa Guardians were established to campaign against the sale of the land. Persistent campaigning made the potential sale an election issue, and on 19 August 2005, the government announced that it would purchase the land and transfer it to the Department of Conservation.

Since then the Whareroa Guardians have worked on a number of bush and stream restoration projects involving over 200 volunteers. It is hoped that pest eradication efforts by the Department of Conservation will further enhance the kohekohe bush remnants, and increase their value as habitat to indigenous species of birds and other animals. And so today, a new era in Whareroa Farm’s complex and varied history began – one that will probably involve less jeeps, sheep and cattle and more people, bush and birds.

Photo top: A wetland along the Whareroa Stream that has been restored through planting by volunteers. In the background is a bush remnant, dominated by kohekohe. Middle: the band which penned the original protest song against the sale of the farm plays at the opening. Bottom: Local iwi kaumatua (elders) arrive in style (if not necessarily in comfort!) in a restored US military jeep – a highly appropriate mode of transport given the farm’s history.

See also: The kohekohe forest of Hemi Matenga Reserve

Sources: Whareroa Farm, Department of Conservation; Whareroa Farm Official Opening Leaflet (Whareroa Guardians Community Trust, Department of Conservation.

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