Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lake Papaitonga

I guess it was a Geoff Park tribute thing. As I have written on my other blog, one of my hero's, Geoff Park died the other day. I am sure history will remember him much more for the great ecologist and nature writer he was, than the mainstream remember him today.

As I wrote: through his "testament" Nga Uruora" I accompanied Geoff Park on his journeys to the last reamining remnants of New Zealand's lowland ecosystems. I learnt to see the enormity of the destruction we have caused by peering out of these remnants with him, through curtains of fern , to witness the "development" of our countryside.

One of the journeys Park took me on was to Lake Papaitonga in the Horowhenua, just a bit south of Levin. We were up there in the weekend for some orienteering in the monoculture just south of the Manawatu river. On the way back we finally took that turn to check this place out.

Its a strange story, back in the day these lands were scenes of fierce inter-tribal fighting and massacres. In 1822 Te Rauparaha with the aid of muskets annihilated the Muaupoko hapu, 600 people dying in one of New Zealand's most bloodiest incidents. Just sixty years later as European colonisation and "development" of the land rolled north from the Wellington settlement the land was purchased by Walter Buller, for use as his own private estate. As the link above explores Buller was not above devious schemes, and to prevent the local Maori population from protesting at the purchase he placed the "demons" Tuatara, of which they were mortally fearful, on an island in the middle of the lake.

I've got to say this is a great story, aye, Tuatara breeding again on the New Zealand mainland in "Zealandia" the Karori Wildlife sanctuary, awesome. But maybe, just maybe, Bullers Tuatara bred (though I guess if it was on an island it doesn't count!!).

Just walking down the hill from the carpark, the difference is amazing, the forest closes in around you, and before you know it you are on boardwalk winding through a swamp, on both sides ancient canopy trees flourish; Kahikatea, Tawa, Titoki and more. Marble leafs jostle on the edges of the swamp. From a distance the Kahikatea appear orange because of their seeding...

The complexity is overwhelming, sometimes every plant in a group of 10 is of a different species. The environment is so rich, such an artwork, you can understand E O Wilson's quote: "Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal. But although it envelops you for a time, this haven is so small! At the furtherest viewpoint you come to a look out over the lake. and you can turnaround to see a small cluster of survivors providing shelter in the middle of a paddock.

This is all there is left of the vast forest that used to cover this coast. It is the genetic pool from which we can pull locally sourced plants. Work is going on now, everywhere in these parts, to replant the streams and waterways and wetlands, walking through this primeval jungle you realise both how important and how long term these projects are.

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The squirm of Lake Papitonga and its forest cloak in the Horowhenua farmland.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
A really beautiful, and spiritual place. I spend a lot of time down in Levin with work. On really nice days I quite often build in a Restoration Moment and walk to the lake and just sit quietly amongst this amazing forest.

Jamie said...

Hey robb,

Glad you know about this place. It really is special and sobering spending some time within it.