How to grow a forest out of weeds
A BEAUTIFUL FEATURE of this block is its planted native forest. The 2ha area of bush is now under a QEII covenant, but it only exists because of a deliberate and major undertaking that the Shackletons began in 2003.
Where the land dropped off down to the Waitapu Stream, Sandra and Eric decided to create a native forest to stabilise the slope and replace the thickly growing gorse and tobacco weed.
Eric and a friend initially cleared a crisscross pattern through the gorse and planted along those lines, so the small trees had protection from the weather.
The couple then employed local Andries van Zwijdregt for the next two and a half years to grow seeds, organise all the planting and continue development of the bush block. A couple of extra helpers were brought in as required, all paid.
"It was important to us to employ local people, to make a difference,” says Eric.
The tree seeds were all locally-sourced, grown in trays, potted on and then planted out. They grew 1695 pohutukawa from seeds gathered from one local tree. A large number of kauri were rescued from a load of unsold seedlings which had been left a bit too long in their pots. These were nursed back to health and many of them now stand tall on the hillside.
Manuka branches with seed capsules attached were laid on the ground and seedlings grew up underneath. Now they're filling in spaces where some trees didn't survive, or where slips have created gaps.
"A lot of people bring us trees, so we just plant them in,” says Eric. “We've thrown a
lot of seed around."
Weed control requires regular attention, with the usual coastal culprits including yellow-flowered boneseed, pampas and always gorse, although that will eventually be shaded out by the bush.
A well-formed gravel track traverses the bush slope with steps where it is steep and a hand-rope all the way. Here and there are wooden carved signs with the common and botanical names of particular plants, crafted by Andries. The trees in most places now form a thick canopy overhead.
At the lowest point on the track we step down through a gate and out into the open to look up at the waterfall, a loud and steady flow after recent rain.
Eric estimates the forest project has cost upwards of $100,000 by the time wages are taken into account.
"But isn't this something we've done right?” he asks. “You know, we've created something out of nothing. We've done something for the community and for our own personal satisfaction and it'll be there forever."