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

First day of spring at Nga Manu Nature Reserve

Today – the first day of spring – dawned crisp and clear, so Carter and I decided to venture out to one of our favourite hang-outs: Nga Manu Nature Reserve, just north of Waikanae township, on the Kapiti Coast [click here to view map]. Continue reading

Preserving a lowland forest survivor on the volcanic plateau

Radio New Zealand’s “Country Life” programme is a favourite of mine – as a born-and-bred “townie” – I enjoy the insights it provides into living off the land – whether as a farmer, horticulturalist, or cottage industry owner. The programme also features stories which provide important insights from an environmental history perspective.

The most recent programme features a story about a southern Waikato farmer who, after growing up seeing the lowland indigenous forest around her town decimated by forestry, is covenanting 4 hectares of remnant bush on her farm in Mamaku [click here to view location] to ensure its future preservation. The bush is dominated by tawa, rimu and kahikatea, and is one of the last surviving remnants on this ignimbrite plateau which was once covered in dense forest. Continue reading

The place of an echo: Pūtaringamotu (Deans Bush)

When Europeans began arriving in the Canterbury region in the early 1800s, most of the swamp forest – dominated by matai, totara and kahikatea (white pine) – that covered much of the Canterbury Plains in previous centuries was gone. It is thought that it had been destroyed by a great fire that swept across the plains during the moa hunter period, leaving only a scattered bush remnants. Continue reading

Views of Kapiti 2 – Waikanae River wetland restoration

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. Continue reading