The redeveloped bush is expected to be reopen to the public in March 2021.
Work started last week to preserve thriving stands of kauri in Curry’s Bush, in Wellsford, and to develop the reserve into an outdoor classroom and educational site.
The bush on Wi Apo Drive has largely been forgotten, but it is now being developed with dieback wash stations, a 150 metre long boardwalk and wheelchair access.
The bush was formally blessed last month by Manuhiri rangatira Reno Skipper and his father Herby Skipper, of Te Uri o Hau and Ngati Manuhiri.
Herby explained that the bush was the last untouched remnant of Pakiri block three.
The block was gifted by Ngati Manuhiri rangatira Te Kiri Kaiparaoa to Herby’s great uncle, Wi Apo Te Whakaotinga, who was aged seven at the time, in 1874.
The 3600ha block was the subject of a 10 year legal battle in the Maori Land Court.
Wi Apo’s trustee was Member of Parliament, John Sheehan, who had an interest in bringing a rail line through the land and sold it from underneath Wi Apo.
The land was eventually granted back to Wi Apo by Judge John Rogan. Wi Apo got a fair price for the land when he sold it himself, which allowed for the development of Wellsford.
Herby challenged representatives of Auckland Council to rename the bush after Wi Apo.
Fittingly, the name Wi Apo Te Whakotinga translates to “he who has the last word”.
Rodney College careers advisor Colleen Wright said the school has ambitions to use the bush as an outdoor classroom.
It is hoped that pupils will be involved in trapping, erecting informational signs and identifying and cataloguing flora and fauna.
The bush will also form part of studies into the history of the town, with an emphasis on Maori history.
The school will collaborate with Te Uri o Hau to make a waharoa (gateway) carving for the entrance way.
Rodney Local Board member Colin Smith said the reserve had so far escaped the notice of most local residents, but would soon be an asset.
He said Auckland Council had allocated funds to develop sites with healthy kauri, but had been challenged in finding a site without dieback to invest in.
“Now the money is all coming to Wellsford,” he said.
He thanked volunteer Caroline Milner for her efforts in advocating for the bush.
Without Caroline’s efforts in bringing parties together and vying for funding, the bush would likely have remained forgotten or been permanently closed to the public.