Inland West Coast: the realm of semi-tamed nature

Driving the route east of Lake Brunner, then back to the coast via State Highway 73 through Taramakau Valley [click here to view map], I was struck by the palpable human imprint even on the most (at first glance) wild and rugged looking landscapes. Through the Taramakau Valley, the hills and mountains on either side of the Taramakau River are so steep that landslips are frequent events, sometimes missing farmhouses perched precariously at the bottom of these slopes by a breathtakingly small margin. Continue reading

A West Coast odyssey

To call it an “odyssey” is, without question, embellishing slightly, given that it was less than a day. But today, I had the great privilege to travel to the West Coast (Hokitika and Greymouth) for work reasons, and although our time there was regrettably brief, I relished every moment of this beautiful, complex and historically rich landscape. [Photo above: A solitary kahikatea standing by the roadside just before the entrance to the Hokitika Gorge Scenic Reserve (click here to view approximate location).] Continue reading

Saving our last riverine forest – the era of scenery preservation

In Nga UruoraEcology and History in a New Zealand Landscape (Chapter 3 – “The Riverbend”), Geoff Park tells the history of the riverine forests of Mokau, a river which flows from its source in the forest on the slopes of the Rangitoto Ranges, out to sea at the Taranaki Bight, just north of the boundary between Taranaki and Waikato [click here to view map]. Here is one of the very few places left in the North Island where coastal forest remains intact down to the sea. Continue reading

The valley of disappointment

Today, the Petone and Lower Hutt area is an intense conglomeration of industrial, commercial and residential buildings and infrastructure – interconnected by motorways, roads and railways – concentrated within the confines of the sea to the south and the steeply rising hills of the valley to the west and east. Within this landscape of steel, glass, concrete and asphalt, it is hard to believe that only 170 years ago, this was thickly forested floodplain and estuary, rich with teeming birdlife – including the now extinct huia, and the endangered kokako. Continue reading

The slaying of our kahikatea forests: how Jurassic giants became butter boxes

New Zealand’s tallest forest tree, the kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides), once dominated the forests that covered much of New Zealand’s swampy lowland areas. Far from a solitary tree, the kahikatea groups closely with other kahikatea, intertwining its buttressed roots with its neighbours for support in the unstable swampy ground. (It is perhaps for this reason that the kahikatea has evolved with such a tall, straight trunk with no lower branches, to enable it to “huddle” with others for stability). In autumn, throughout the lowlands of New Zealand, numerous forest birds chattered noisily in its canopy, feeding on its abundant red berries. These berries, called koroī, were also a valued food source for Māori, who skillfully climbed up the smooth branchless trunks to harvest them. Continue reading

The conquest of the “noble” forest of Waihou

On 16 November 1769 Captain James Cook in his ship Endeavour cast anchor off Tararu Point, about 2 miles north-west of the present town of Thames [click here to view map], and made a short excursion on the Waihou River by ship’s boat. Both Cook and the ship’s botanist Joseph Banks were deeply impressed by what they saw. Continue reading

envirohistory NZ podcast – episode 4 out now!

Episode 4 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is now out. This episode explores three environmental histories – which, while diverse in both their time-spans and their human protagonists, are all connected by a common theme. The first of these stories begins in the early 1800s, and features a Maori hapu and its relationship with its coastal Horowhenua environment [click here to read original post]. The next one, is of pioneering Scottish settlers in the 1840s, and their longsighted protection of a remnant of swamp forest in what was to become Christchurch [click here to read original post]. The third and final, more recent, story is of a dairy farmer and the indigenous forest remnant encompassed by his south Waikato farm [click here to read original post]. Continue reading