Porirua bush telegraph

Dominion Post | 1 January 2005

Claire Giblin reports on a community project that is restoring a valley of native bush behind Cannons Creek in Porirua - and is now open for guided walks.

Photo: Growing Concerns: Porirua resident Sylvia Jenkin has been a driving force behind the Maara Roa project.

Photo: In the thick of it: John Hodges and Brenda Stickley have both been involved as volunteers in the planting and general restoration of the Maara Roa valley.


YOU'RE invited to take a walk through a hidden valley in Porirua City that is being lovingly restored to its former native glory.

Maara Roa (The Long Garden) is a 100-hectare labour of love in Cannons Creek that has been described as a "hidden gem".

This summer, guided walks are being being taken through the valley.

What you will see is the result of five of restoration work by a team of volunteers who have planted more than 4,000 native trees and developed a new walking track.  The Takapu Track opened in February last year.

The group Friends of Maara Roa is working with Greater Wellington regional council, which is also providing some funding for the project.

The campaign to save the valley began in 2000 after a series of fires.

Local resident Sylvia Jenkin decided something had to be done, so, with a bit of help, drew up a report and presented it to Porirua City Council and Greater Wellington regional council.

With their blessing, Sylvia gathered together a group of volunteers and set to work.  The first task was to prepare a 10-year plan in conjunction with the regional council.

One of the key developments has been work on a series of green firebreaks.  A fire in 2003 destroyed half of the group's newly planted seedlings and some of the native bush area.

"That was a big blow" says Sylvia, "and we were scared everyone would get disheartened and give up, but, if anything, it solidified the original group and they're working like beavers."

The volunteers have also set up 12 bait lines through the valley in a bid to control animal pests and all new seedlings are wrapped in protective netting.  The group has achieved huge community support.  Five local primary schools have "Adopted a Site" within the valley and are planting them as part of the 10-year plan.

Project K, Conservation Corps and church groups have also helped with tree planting and care.

Porirua College has established a nursery that grows about 1000 seedlings for the project each year.

Some volunteers cut cardboard collars for each seedling to prevent weed growth around the base, while others are involved in potting on young seedlings.

The fruit of the volunteers' labour is really starting to show now.

A stand of kowhai trees planted in 2000 are this year just starting to flower.  Native birds, such as tui, morepork and pukeko, are returning and, as you look across the valley the green leaves of regenerating bush are beginning to dominate the gorse.

Long term, the Friends want to see Maara Roa in public ownership with year-round public access.

At the moment, the valley is owned by Landcorp Farming Ltd and is part of its Waitangirua Farm, which covers more than 1000 hectares.

The Maara Roa valley area is mostly retired from farming and 40 hectares is covered by Conservation Department covenants.

The proposed Transmission Gully motorway could run across the area, but Sylvia says she doesn't see that affecting the preservation plans as the road would be above the valley on a viaduct.

She says the regional council has expressed an interest in purchasing the valley.  It already manages Belmont Regional Park, which includes Maara Roa.

The name Maara Roa was given to the valley many years ago.

History tells of a Maori woman who tended a garden on a long strip of land somewhere on the northern side of this valley.

She grew fruit and vegetables and shared them with Maori and Pakeha alike.  She became so well known for her hospitality that travellers called her home The Long Garden - Maara Roa.

Non-scheduled guided walks through Maara Roa are available on request.