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Trip Report – Huntleigh Park, Crofton Downs

Trip Report – 4 June 2016 :   Huntleigh Park, Crofton Downs

As part of our preparation for coleading the trip into Huntleigh Park, one of the largest and most significant forest remnants in Wellington city (Geoff Park, 1999), I was grateful that Chris Moore had alerted me to read Dr Paul Blaschke’s 2006 report to Wellington City Council (WCC): Ecological assessment of private land adjoining Huntleigh Park which includes both the Park itself and the private land adjoining it.   Available on the internet, the report contains a wealth of historical and ecological information on this highly significant ecosystem.   Several earlier studies of it by BotSoccers Isobel Gabites (2002), and Vicki Froude (2002) following Blaschke’s report, added valuable new material to assist WCC to prepare a plan change for this area which lies between established residential housing and the Outer Green Belt.

Huntleigh Park itself is mainly steep hill country with deeply incised streams, but there are gentler slopes as well.   On a cool, fine, winter morning, twenty-nine of us gathered on Silverstream Road, gazing at the densely forested, spurand-gully prospect ahead of us, with its numerous emergents, some of them podocarps, between 100 and 200 years old (Blaschke).   After our briefing, we crossed the stream, passed through a section of planted native species, (probably mostly cultivars), then climbed a broad, wellgraded track through forest owned for some decades by GirlGuidingNZ, where Greater Wellington Regional Council and WCC have been assisting with possum control since 2001.

Teaching and learning were made easy by the gentle nature of the track and the accessibility and diversity of trackside vegetation.   Fern species were numerous and prolific.   We soon added Tmesipteris elongata and Lastreopsis velutina to the prepared list everyone carried.   A massive totara, c. 1m diameter-at-breastheight (d.b.h.) below the track, was the first pre-European podocarp we were to see.   Kohekohe were in full flower, thickly draped in creamy panicles, and many of their last winter’s glossy green capsules hung in clusters above, already almost full size.   Here and there in the canopy, tui squabbled vociferously over trusses of flowering, nectar-bearing Metrosideros fulgens.   We also heard kaka, kakariki and kereru at various times.

We lunched in a bunch beneath a huge old hinau whose many ancient, knotted knees offered good places to sit, then continued uphill through podocarp-broadleaf forest to a grassy clearing near where we stopped to admire some particularly fine old trees.   A totara, d.b.h. c. 1m is one of the largest.   I regret I didn’t think to check its gender.   Beside it is the largest lancewood I have ever seen - c. 5m tall, many-branched, with a fully developed crown spreading for perhaps 7m.   Nearby is a huge, female kahikatea c. 80cm d.b.h., a female, with purple fruit, and some years surrounded by her flourishing seedlings.

Almost throughout, we had clear views of the phenomenon known as ‘ missing sub-canopy tiers’.   This commonly develops over decades in native forests where, unless pest control and / or stock control has been introduced soon enough, the young trees get browsed and dwarfed.   The 18 only trees that escape browsing are those that are unpalatable, or already tall enough to escape being browsed.   This leaves a recognisable pattern of gaps.

We descended via a minor spur crest, passing several matai of estimated age 80-100 years old, admiring their ruby-revealing trunks, and pausing to greet an ancient miro, d.b.h. c. 1m, possibly one of those mentioned by Park in his list of the oldest trees in Huntleigh Park.   En route, we noted numerous ‘handgrenade-like’ burls on a Myrsine australis.   Further down we spent time botanising a beautiful dell ringed by matai, miro, and a tall rimu, where in season, we have seen a carpet of native orchids and numerous podocarp seedlings.   Near this site we saw a tall matai with its typically upright, narrow-angled branching, the natural growth form of this species.

Not far from there we passed a mountain-bike ramp illegally built by riders using Huntleigh Park’s tracks and creating new ones.   A prompt letter of complaint to WCC describing the damage to tracks, vegetation and soils, resulted in swift action in the form of notices banning bikes in the park.   We were very impressed with this response, and look forward to seeing the ramp removed, and the illegal track blocked off and allowed to revert.

One day in 1994 when I was first exploring Huntleigh Park, I came on an unusual sight - just ahead of me was a 2m-tall, straight, Metrosideros robusta / northern rata trunk, c. 35cm d.b.h., completely dead but still standing.   There was no mistaking it for anything but northern rata.   I have not seen northern rata anywhere in the park since.   Geoff Park recorded the species in the reserve, but it has never been recorded since.   I hope someone comes across propagules of it there some day.

Barbara Mitcalfe

Participants : Bev Abbott, Peter Beavon, Regina Blattner, Barbara Clark, Kat de Silva, Gavin Dench, Michele Dickson, Carolyn Dimattina, Pat Enright, Jenny Fraser, Ian Goodwin, Jill Goodwin, Richard Grasse, Michael Harrison, Jackie Hemmingson, Chris Hopkins, Chris Horne (co-leader), Rodney Lewington, Winifred Maindonald, Barbara Mitcalfe (co-leader), Chris Moore (leader), Richard Parfitt, Mick Parsons, Leon Perrie, Lara Shepherd, Darea Sherratt, Karin Sievwright, Sunita Singh, Julia White.


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