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Hill standing alone

Friends of Pukemokemoke Bush Reserve spent thousands of hours this year building a wooden walkway to help prevent kauri dieback. It’s the latest of a lot of hard volunteer work that has gone into the restoration of the lone maunga in Tauhei.


Image - Warwick Silvester, Chairman of Pukemokemoke Bush Trust

Can you hear the birds? We have kererū and tūī. When the kererū break cover they scare the heck out of you. They are very noisy birds.

Pukemokemoke stands for hill standing alone. It’s a last piece of remnant bush on this plain. We’re trying to get Pukemokemoke back to what it once was. I think we are being pretty successful.

This place has suffered a variety of degradation over the years. This is a log hauler site. All the big trees were cut out. Fortunately for us they took only the really big ones and left trees that were reasonably sized.

They finished logging here in the 1950s. They left a stand of kauri on the ridge adjacent to the quarry. We have some lovely trees. Mataī – mataī is not a common tree in New Zealand anymore; kahikatea, rimu, tōtara. The kauri and rimu are at least 300 years old.

This was part of a very big cattle station. The last owner willed the whole property over to a trust, the David Johnstone Charitable Trust. A sub-trust of that was Pukemokemoke. So this is a private trust running the area for public good.

When we took over 20 years ago, cattle were through here, under the trees. The trees were covered in vines and creepers. There was privet, pampas and gorse, honeysuckle, blackberry, convolvulus. And full of possums, of course, and rats and stoats. We had the whole disaster. It was a mess.

I was the head of the biology at the uni, professor of biology. I thought it was a worthwhile enterprise. I just had to walk through once to see the potential of the place. It had good canopy.

But there was an impenetrable wall of privet. And when I say impenetrable I mean impenetrable. We started off by cutting the privet by hand. It was mind-numbingly boring and dispiriting. Then we got the T-Rex in, a rotary mulcher on a tractor, and it completely demolished it into wood chips. It was so wonderful to see.

We have planted probably 15,000 native trees in here, and part of the philosophy is to plant around the edges and let the interior take care of itself. The regeneration you see now, that wasn’t here.

We were trapping ourselves, we have 100 bait stations. It’s hellishly hard work to go around and rebait them. We managed to keep the possums down, then the Halo project came and we were part of that, so there was intensive animal control for three years.

At that stage the quarry was gearing up for a new resource consent. The quarry occupies half the maunga so they said they would manage all the animal control for the next 30 years, and we said, oh, all right! The results of this are very easy to hear, there’s so much birdsong!


Image - native trees and birdsA guy from Landcare is about to do another bird count. I am a bit sceptical about bird counts because I know when the birds are here. Try coming here in March and April, when the tōtara are fruiting; there are legions of birds. Certainly the birds have blossomed. We even have kākā coming here.

This is a bat control site for Opus doing the engineering on the new motorway. They do bat surveys in here quite regularly. They have eight or nine recording devices and they have been getting positive recordings all through the year. We have bats all along the stream boundary.

With kauri dieback becoming an issue, I had been mulling the possibility of a boardwalk. Phytophthora agathidicida, which causes kauri dieback, is carried by feet. It’s in the soil, it bores its way into a root, attaches to the fine roots, and gets into the body of the kauri. It can kill them off completely. There’s about 30 substantial trees, here.

The regional council said we can come up with some money if you want to do a walkway. I went to the district council and got some more. Altogether we got $40,000 to fund the materials. It was built entirely by volunteer work; thousands of volunteer hours. Really neat relationships were made between people when doing it.

Just savour the length of the board walk. Four hundred metres! And every one of those planks had to be carried up. Every post!

We got in this bunch of PD workers. I said: “We got to get this stuff up the hill!”

“Looks like a shit job, bro!”

I said … how did I word it? I made it a bit of a competition: “I’m going to carry one up the hill and I want to see anyone half fit try and beat me.” And they treated it as a challenge, and they got them up the hill.

Rototuna Junior High School adopted us. They bring all their kids here and put them to work. When building the boardwalk we had them here for two consecutive days, two busloads in the morning, two busloads in the afternoon, and the kids, they just loved it. Carrying timber up the hill.

There are five kindergarten groups coming here, also, it is part of their classroom. People come here for fitness and to walk their dogs. The usage has just gone through the roof. It puts enormous demands on maintenance but it brings out the best in the volunteers because they see happy people.