Dominion Post, Wednesday, 5 January 2005, Walkabout, page C2
By Dave Hansford
Most Wellingtonians can look out the window and see greenery somewhere: we tend to take it for granted. But those trees are only there because somebody made it their business to look after them. The Wellington City Council takes care of the Town and Outer Belts, and many more parks and reserves.
But elsewhere, in all corners of the city, groups of volunteers give up their Sundays to plant trees and pull weeds, pick up rubbish, set possum and rat traps and clean up streams.
The Friends of Tawa Bush Reserves is one such taskforce. They’ve adopted Larsen Crescent and Wilf Mexted Scenic Reserves, and the 10-hectare patch you’re about to walk through – Redwood Bush.
Since 2000, they’ve been nursing these precious remnants hack to health after decades of possum damage, clearance and rubbish dumping.
Last November, they built this track (Wellington City Council put in the steps, borders and bridges) so people could come and enjoy some of Wellington’s rarest forest – the last few mature tawa and kohekohe.
It’s a short easy jaunt: even with stops to take in the trees, it’s probably an hour return at most. This combined with the proximity to town means it’s an ideal one for small kids.
Add the sweetener of a park and (basic) playground at the far end, and it's a winner.
This type of forest once covered much of the region, but more than 99 per cent of it fell to the axe and the match (the Beehive is lined extensively inside with tawa). The cloak is now threadbare, scattered in tiny pockets left open to the wind and invasive weeds that sprout from dumped garden rubbish.
So Redwood Bush is a shady, priceless relic.
Initially, the bush floor is open (there's a swing just inside that the kids won’t be able to resist) – lanky kawakawa reach up to the light on trunks that look like the bony fingers of a skeleton amid a few filmy ferns. But the deeper you go, the more diverse the forest becomes.
The kohekohe have rewarded their Friends’ kindness with a lush canopy of fresh glossy leaves, and legions of little seedlings below. Kohekohe is top of the possums' menu, and without a network of traps and bait stations, they’d be in a sorry plight by now.
Large purple-black berries lie on the ground, looking a bit like olives.
These have fallen from the tawa overhead. They’re big: so big that there are few forest birds left capable of swallowing them. But one still lives here. You may hear the woosh of its wings, or find an iridescent green wing feather on the forest door. It’s the kereru, or native pigeon and without its appetite and alimentary tract the tawa would be lost.
It’s a simple but beautifully elegant system. The pigeon gobbles up the tawa berry, gets the benefit of its nutritious flesh, yet leaves the seed unharmed, primed in fact, for deposit far from the parent tree, often in its own little jump start of fertiliser.
Around December-January, you might also spot titoki berries on the track. A fleshy scarlet fruit holds a glossy black seed in a woody capsule. Maori lore mentions a drink distilled from these berries that “captured the intensity and glow of the earth’s hidden fires.”
Maori also pressed the seeds for oil, which was used as a hair groomer.
Soon, the interior becomes a snarl of supplejack, hangehange with its exquisite, musky scent and lush beds of ferns.
Even the common trees are noteworthy here, because there are some very old mahoe (you can tell them apart by all the canes of new growth shooting from around the gnarly old trunks), a huge griselinia and some tree fuchsia (the ones with the rusty-coloured bark hanging off in papery strips) and heketara, or tree daisies (they’re flowering right now in myriad white clusters).
You’ll also see some trunks shot through with holes. These belong to putaputaweta, or marble leaf, and they’re tenement blocks of tree weta.
If the kids are up for it take them in perhaps a half hour before dark to suss out the best weta trees. Make sure everyone has a torch. Then it’s just a case of waiting quietly.
About half an hour after dusk, the weta will start reversing out cautiously. They rest head first, so that any daytime predators are confronted with their spiny back legs at the entrance. Then they’re off up the trunk on their nightly forage.
The track continue to climb gently to a small open knoll (there’s an excellent weta tree just below it right beside the track) where you get a view across the houses to the stark stucco ramparts of Grenada North.
From here, the track dips down to a small footbridge under much smaller, regenerating scrub till you can see down to Brasenose Park and the playground.
You can walk back along the streets if you wish, but it would be a shame when you’ve got such a delightful alternative back the way you came.
Priceless relic: The deeper you go, the more diverse the forest becomes.
Picture: DAVE HANSFORD
Getting There: Take State Highway One out of Wellington about 10 kilometres to the Tawa off-ramp, then follow the ramp down Main Rd running north towards Tawa township.
You’ll see a big blue Transit sign announcing the tumoff left to Redwood, which is at the next roundabout, opposite Dress Smart. The road hasn’t got a name on it but it’s Redwood Ave.
Go on up the hill and veer left at the top on to Oriel Ave. Carry on for a kilometre till you see Achilles Close come up on your left. The track begins at a small sealed car park next to a sign announcing Redwood Bush. You can’t miss it.
Time: Less than half an hour one way, over about 800 metres.
Bring: Sandals are fine in the dry; light shoes if it’s been raining. The track, like so many projects, starts out with a confident swagger – broad, benched and gravelled. But the further from the road end it gets, the less sure of itself it seems. The cambers increase and it narrows, but it’s still unmistakably navigable (You pass one side track, ungravelled, that heads off uphill through tall grass toward neighbouring Larsen Crescent reserve) and there’s no difficulty for the able-bodied. The Friends of Tawa Bush Reserve website (www.tawabush.wellington.net.nz) claims your grandmother can do this walk, and if she’s the Tina Turner kind of grandmother she probably can.
But there are several flights of steps, and physics and physiology will set the limits. A walking pole will help.
You might want to take a picnic for Brasenose Park, which is also just the right shape for a cricket or soccer match.
Torches for each weta hunter at night.
Leave: The sign says no mountain bikes, but is silent on the subject of dogs.
Refreshments: Retrace your steps. When you come back to Main Rd turn left and head toward Tawa. On the right-hand side of the road you’ll encounter the Thai Country Cafe which promises “longevity through nutrition”. Who could resist such an intriguing offer?
It you have your doubts, carry on to the end of town where you’ll find the End Zone Cafe on your left, or try Cafe Addict in the paved recess that passes for a mall in Tawa.