A little bit of everything

Dominion Post | 29 December 2005

THIS walk takes in open farm tops, regenerating forest, shady streams and flax swamps in a compact loop around a little-known corner of Belmont Regional Park.

Park on the grass at the end of Takapu Rd.  There's an interpretation board telling you something of the history of the now defunct Waitangirua farm and a few dos and don'ts.  It's worth mentioning that the map on the board doesn't show Maara Roa as a complete loop, but it is, and you'll find your way around it easily enough.  [Ed. The map on the board is correct now.]

Dominion Post, 29 December 2005 | A little bit of everything: Takapu Track, Belmont Regional Park

A little bit of everything: Takapu Track, Belmont Regional Park.

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Look left from the board and you'll see the track leading off over a stile in front of a concrete ruin.  Walk past the building and the first marker post will reveal itself.  From here, a clay farm road runs off up a knoll under an old pine shelter belt.  That's your route.

Bush is surfacing through the carpet of gorse. You're looking out over Porirua city, Cannons Creek, Colonial Knob, Whitireia and beyond to Plimmerton and the distant hills. Copyright: Patrick A Fenlon

Bush surfacing through the carpet of gorse.

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The track skirts the top of one of the covenanted Maara Roa bush blocks.  These are a great example of regenerating native forest; you can see that the gorse that once nourished and protected it has been all but shouldered out of the way.  In its place are now tall neon green mahoe, hangehange, rangiora and tree ferns.  This is why we've learnt to live with gorse; we once made a crusade out of burning and slashing it, but we realised a while back that gorse is not only a nitrogen fixer, but unlike Darwin's barberry, it makes an excellent nursery crop for native seedlings if we tolerate its presence.

Tall tree ferns lean out over the track. Copyright: Patrick A Fenlon

Tall tree ferns lean out over the track.

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Carry on up and over the crest and you're looking out over Porirua city, Cannons Creek, Colonial Knob, Whitireia and beyond to Plimmerton and the distant hills.  Maybe 50 metres down the other side is the stile, on your right, you want to cross.  There's a sign proclaiming the way to Cannons Creek.  Head down the broad track between ranks of healthy mahoe, karamu and kanono, and deep-purple foxgloves.  Tall tree ferns lean out over the track.

After about 10 minutes, you'll cross a footbridge over Cannons Creek.  There are tree fuchsia here dipping their toes in the cool stream, supplejack vines and a hutu tree.  You've already dropped 100 metres since the car park, and now it's time to head upwards for a bit, breaking out of the young forest and past the scene of a disastrous 2003 scrub fire that wiped out 3000 planted trees and years of work by the Friends of Maara Roa.

Trees planted by the Friends of Maara Roa volunteers. Each tree is protected from pest animals with its own rabbit/hare-proof plastic enclosure, and cardboard weed mat. Copyright: Patrick A Fenlon

Trees planted by the Friends. Protected from pest animals.

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This group of volunteers nurtures the forest you're walking through by trapping pests and pulling out weeds.  Members plant out seedlings - raised in their own nursery at Porirua College - every season, joined by six local schools who've adopted a block each in a 10-year planting programme.

The group is also looking for funding to cut more tracks through here, so people can get to see the very special mix of tawa and kohekohe in the centre of this covenanted block (it's that stand of reddish-looking trees - you get a better look at it later on).  One day, Friends of Maara Roa hopes to link this remnant with the Korokoro block.

As you can see, the group got straight back into re-replanting after the fire, using lemonwood, wharangi, manuka, hebes and other hardy pioneers, many with their own rabbit/hare-proof enclosure and cardboard weed mat.

A civilised sit down. Here's a bench seat where you can take a breather and consider your next move, because the track forks here. Copyright: Patrick A Fenlon

A civilised sit down.

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There's a bench seat beside a small knoll just below, where you can take a breather and consider your next move, because the track forks here.  If you take the left - and I strongly recommend you do - it'll take you down past more replanting, over a stile and down to the Cannons Creek Lake Reserve, where boardwalks bear you over the swampy bits through groves of flax and raupo.  This bit is a loop, so it doesn't matter which turn you make at the fork just metres inside.  It's a good opportunity to get intimate with an ecosystem that's usually notoriously inaccessible.  There are ducks, and the inevitable pukeko leading platoons of chicks that look like chimney brushes on legs.

Part of the flax (harakehe) grove viewed from the Maara Roa Track, after a flax-care working bee (2012). Copyright: Sylvia Jenkin

Flax grove.

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Red admiral butterflies flit about looking for their host plant, the nettle, and you're constantly confronted by territorially enraged common redcoat damselflies.  You have to look down to see them, because mostly they're challenging your ankles, but a new one rushes up every few metres as you invade its patch.

Weavers from Te Waananga O Aotearoa in Porirua have been lovingly tending selected sections of these flax groves for nearly four years.  They cut away any dead or diseased fronds from the base of the plants, and pull away the rank grasses crowding around them.

There's a world of difference between the plants the weavers have cared for, and the "wild" ones further up the stream, which are frayed and pockmarked with little black-rimmed holes and scaly growths.  By contrast, the tended plants are clean as a whistle, and grow much more vigorously for having their dead fronds removed.

That makes them ideal for weaving.  Even though they're all the same species, there's enough variation among them to make some more suitable for certain uses than others.  If the fronds droop, it means that particular plant has a soft fibre - good for fine, decorative work.

Other plants stand more erect; often they'll bear a black ridge down the mid-vein.  They're tougher.  Called muka flax, they're used to make ropes and mats.  Feel the difference.

View of the Belmont Regional Park. Copyright: Patrick A Fenlon

Park View.

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There are plenty of good, grassy spots to break out the picnic lunch here, and when it's time to go you can cross the stream at one of two culverts and make your way back up the other bank.  After 10 minutes or so, you'll find yourself back on the track that brought you here.  Go back up to the junction and head left down the track marked "Hill Road".

Hop over the stile at the culvert and start up the farm road under avenues of plantation gums and scruffy gorse.  This section isn't exactly a scenic wonderland, but it soon opens out into expansive views of the regional park and, to your right, back over the covenant block you walked through earlier.

Panorama to the west from Belmont Regional Park. Copyright: Patrick A Fenlon


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After 10 minutes or so, you'll find a seat at great vantage point out over the city and harbour.  This is the place to get a better look at the 25 hectare tawa/kohekohe stand.  This is now a very rare forest type in Wellington, and it's the only example in the Porirua Basin.

However, you're also looking at the route the Transmission Gully road will take if it gets the go-ahead.  Theoretically, a 300-metre viaduct will span this tract of forest, but the Friends of Maara Roa is concerned nonetheless about damage from construction and traffic.

From here, it's a case of following the farm track and orange markers.  When you reach the saddle at the top, there are views east to the old ammunition magazines and a couple of unconventional stiles (more like ladders) to negotiate.

The last few steps to the carpark

The last steps.

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It's a bit frustrating at this point to realise that it's probably 10 minutes in a straight line along the ridge back to your car, but stick to the track ... [Ed. Section of track mentioned is no longer used, so omitted for clarity.] ... to its junction at a gate with a gravel farm road, where a sign bids you turn right on to the gravel road, and carry on up the hill under shady pines and high-tension power lines, undulating for another 15 minutes till you arrive at the Transpower substation.  Stick to the road, and you'll pop out right beside the car, just around the next corner.