History – Scars on the landscape

Winching kauri. Photo, Warkworth Museum.

Human habitation in New Zealand is relatively recent, so we have nothing here to compare with Stonehenge or prehistoric burial mounds.  However, the early settlers, whether Maori or Pakeha, left behind signs on the land that can be read by those with an interest in such things.

No doubt archaeologists could point to many Maori sites that the ordinary person would miss, but a few that I have noticed in my rambles in the district include many coastal middens that contain the remains of shellfish feasts. The track around Ti Point is a good place to spot them.

On the south-western end of McElroys Reserve on Cowan  Bay Road, on a little point of land surrounded on three sides by Dyers Creek, are the terraces of an old pa site. These terraces were clearly defined before the regenerating bush began to soften the outlines.

Duck Creek Reserve is rather hard to access, situated as it is on Duck Creek, a tributary of the Mahurangi River, but on the higher reaches of this reserve are eight kumara pits, six of which are just below the fence line and are particularly well defined. These remind us that this area was a great food basket, with the river and harbour supplying plentiful kai moana (sea food) supplemented by the produce of the kumara gardens.

Kauri logging was the earliest European industry in the district, centred at first around the coast line from the 1820s onwards. Felling the giant trees was just one step in the process. Great ingenuity was needed to transport the logs to ships or bullock wagons or saw pits.  Dragging the logs by bullock teams, with much assistance from timber jacks, created deep grooves in the soft ground. When logging became more organised, the logs were winched to a loading site. A winch would be placed on a high point and a bullock, or occasionally a horse, would walk round and round the winch, winding up the wire rope attached to the log.  Ridges were the favoured tracks for this activity. We can now see the scars left by the huge logs on these ridges as they ploughed through the ground.

In the late afternoon, when the sun casts long shadows, while driving north down Waiwera Hill or up Wenderholm Hill, a sinuous groove can be seen on a ridge across the Puhoi River.  Meanwhile, the crème de la crème of logging grooves can be seen over Hungry Creek. It’s seen when travelling north between the Puhoi turn off and Hungry Creek Road.
A long groove follows a ridge in McElroys Reserve, and in the 1980s a rusting bullock chain was found in this trench. It is now unpleasant to follow as years of goat browsing has encouraged the growth of dense cutty grass.

Lastly, a visit to Duck Creek Reserve shows another of these scars. As well as being logged during most of the 19th century, a second cut of kauri was taken between 1926 and 1930 and a trench remains as evidence, probably from this last take.

Two very early settlers to Kaipara Flats, Morison and Melville, set up a saw milling business to take advantage of the many huge trees that grew nearby. At the beginning of the Kaipara Hills Road is Morisons Reserve, and although now nearly rotted away, the remains of massive stumps, which must have had a basal diameter of about three metres are still evident there. A tanekaha tree growing on one of these stumps has a diameter at breast height of 36 cm, giving an indication  of the passage of time since the kauri was felled. In a nearby bush patch, which has been in the hands of the Hood family for 140 years, is a deep pit that was used for pit-sawing timber from logs such as these. Maybe it was Morison and Melville who utilised it – one man standing on the log, the other down in the pit drawing a cross-cut saw up and down to turn the log into planks.  Pity the poor man below, with sawdust filling his eyes and nose.

by Maureen Young

History - Warkworth & District Museum