Travel north to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) these days and you are in for a very different experience than the arduous twists and turns on an unsealed road through a seemingly barren landscape that many of us remember from our family holidays in the region.
Not only is the road now sealed to the end of SH1, but an enormous replanting and beautification project has taken place with more than 300,000 plants being produced for revegetation after the realignment of SH1 and the restructure of the visitor facilities undertaken by the Department of Conservation at Te Rerenga Wairua.
Part of that transformative work was recently recognised with a ‘Plant Nursery Involved in Plant Conservation’ award from the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network for what the judges described as the “stunning restoration of Cape Reinga with native plants”.
The award winner, Native Trees Nursery, based at the Te Manawa o Ngati Kuri site in Ngataki (about 40 minutes south of Te Rerenga Wairua), is owned by NorthTec tutor Wayne Petera (Ngati Kuri).
“We were asked to establish the nursery primarily to support the revegetation work being undertaken by NZTA (New Zealand Transport Agency) and DOC. The work is ongoing and visitors are now able to sponsor a seedling, which they can plant themselves at Te Rerenga Wairua or we plant on their behalf. They are then given a certificate with the GPS coordinates of their plant on it and are able to keep track of the development of their seedling. We even take photos and send them to plant sponsors so they can see how their tree is developing.
“People buy the seedlings for their mokopuna or as a living legacy for a loved one. Some overseas visitors have described planting a seedling at Te Rerenga Wairua as the highlight of their trip to Aotearoa – some have visited their seedling several times during their trip.”
Preparing for planting at the site is no easy task, especially when the ground gets hard and dry in the summer months. “We use a machine to drive holes in the ground and prepare the holes for planting. There’s no electricity here. We use a generator to bring our water up from a deep bore and then transport it by bucket out to the growing seedlings. It’s quite a labour intensive process and there’s a lot of preparation work involved before a seedling can be planted.”
Much of the driving force behind the replanting work came from Wayne’s sister Tessa Edmonds who passed away in June. “She came up to Ngataki to support the kaupapa of the project. She was up there working with the people and planting. She planted 10,000 manuka and kanuka on the land leading out to the lighthouse at Te Rerenga Wairua just before she passed away.”
The kaupapa that meant so much to Tessa continues to be supported by Stephen Boyce and Ngaire Crewther who work full-time for Native Trees Nursery and spend most days each week planting out seedlings at Te Rerenga Wairua.
“Seedlings are eco-sourced from Te Rerenga Wairua by seed or as a cutting and are then developed at the nursery and replanted back at Te Rerenga Wairua,” said Stephen.
Stephen completed NorthTec’s Sustainable Rural Development programme last year at the Ngataki site and is now using that training in his current work. His fellow worker Ngaire has also completed two Horticulture programmes at the site. Even Ngaire’s young daughter Emery gets involved in the project – putting stamps on the postcards that are sent to plant sponsors and helping at the nursery.
“Being able to deliver NorthTec programmes here is a great support for the work we are doing,” said Wayne. “Students from other NorthTec sites in Kerikeri and Kaitaia are able to visit the nursery and learn about our native plants and the kaupapa behind what we are doing here. It gives the students a different perspective. I tell them that this world needs them to be planting natives just as much as it needs them to be planting good food for themselves.”
In addition to their revegetation work at Te Rerenga Wairua, the nursery is germinating the seeds of rare native plants or “rakau tuturu” at the nursery as a way of contributing back to the natural environment that nurtures them and their work.
“We are germinating rare plants such as Atriplex Halloyii, Pennantia Baylisiana (sometimes described as Aotearoa’s rarest tree) and what we know as “Rata Moehau” (Metrosideros Bartlettii) – a member of the pohutukawa family. There are only seven Rata Moehau plants growing in the wild today. We are working towards the support and growth in the numbers of endangered plants so that we can put them back into the wild.
“My hope is that the replanting work that has been done along the road towards Te Rerenga Wairua and in the area itself parallels the wairua journey that people take when they come to this very special place. To me, the sealing of the road is a blessing because it is what led to the establishment of the nursery. Our work at Te Rerenga Wairua wouldn’t have happened without it.
“For me it’s about tiakitanga not kaitiakitanga – in other words getting stuck in and doing the mahi, or the work. What we are doing here is about supporting continuity for the environment and providing manaaki for our visitors. The people that work here, like Steve and Ngaire, can look around with pride and say “I did that with my hands. They can tell their wh?nau ‘We collected the seeds for these plants’. They have played a huge part in the joy and solace that Te Rerenga Wairua brings to people who travel here. Ideas are the easy part- it’s the doing that is important.”
Wayne will be delivering Horticulture (level 2) for NorthTec at the Ngataki site next year. “One of the highlights for me is that students will grown their own plants, take them home and plant them in their raised bed gardens, plots or tubs and grow their own food. They can also take natives that they’ve propagated home.” The nursery itself provides some employment opportunities for graduates who also learn skills that they can use to set up their own small enterprises as a result of the programme.