Learning about our native trees and shrubs and their many uses, made for a very interesting guided walk around Haruatai Park at beginning of National Parks’ Week.
About 20 people joined Kapiti Mayor, Ross Church who launched the week in Ōtaki with an early evening tour of the Millennium Forest and bush walk across the back of Haruatai as well as a detour into the ancient native swamp forest.
First stop was the Millennium Forest to the west of the playing fields. This Rotary Club initiative saw all children attending schools in Ōtaki in 2000 each planting a kahikatea, pukatea, rimu or kauri in the wet boggy ground. The tour was led by Don Cross, KCDC biodiversity programme manager, who told of the values of the different trees and most importantly their uses as either food for the bird life or for rongoa – medicinal use. The kahikatea, has male and female trees with just the female producing fruit – there can be up to 200 kilograms of berries a season and seeds are spread by birds. The pukatea is another tree with a very long life and loves the wet boggy ground – its big leaves have many uses too.
As people moved further along the path, they were introduced to the flowering koromiko, totara and rewa rewa — the New Zealand honeysuckle and further on kawakawa, karamu, kauri and matai — black pine. Mr Cross explained the young scruffy appearance had probably developed to detract them from browsing moa, though they started “normal” growth later and grow to four or five metres. They can live 1000 years or more. The karamu was covered in berries a major food source for both native and introduced birds. Next were the kanuka — great for firewood! With many varieties around NZ there are at least 10 different species with one being specific to the Kapiti region.
The final stop was into the native swamp forest, just to the north of the playing fields, with its 200+ year old kahikatea and ancient pukatea. This area is area is not part of Haruatai, but the private owners have worked with KCDC and fenced it to keep the stock from grazing through it. Possum bait stations have been set through the area and are monitored by students from Te Wananga o Raukawa.
Back in 1994 council formed a partnership with Maori to work alongside them in the 15 parks around Kapiti, with the main focus being on the trees used by Maori. Local iwi saw the area of Haruatai as their “food and medicine cabinet”. Part of the work in Ōtaki has been to prepare a garden at Haruatai. “Signage, in both te reo and English, will be installed telling what the various plants and trees are and their uses are,” Mr Cross said.
To questions of why kauri are included when they are not indigenous to the region, Mr Cross said there were a number of varieties among the 276 distinct districts across NZ. There are some which are slightly different from other areas. He assured those on the trail that all seeds, seedlings and plants were eco-sourced — sourced from local stock and always grown in this area.