Tuahine Treasure

A chance meeting on a weekend ramble prompts Justine Tyerman to investigate the story behind one of her favourite local hikes. She talks to Sandy Bull, chairman of the Tuahine Point Ecological Trust, about the success of their mission to plant and protect a 25-hectare area of the point that was gifted to the QE2 National Trust 15 years ago.

A chance meeting on a weekend ramble prompts Justine Tyerman to investigate the story behind one of her favourite local hikes. She talks to Sandy Bull, chairman of the Tuahine Point Ecological Trust, about the success of their mission to plant and protect a 25-hectare area of the point that was gifted to the QE2 National Trust 15 years ago.

A drone’s-eye view of Tuahine Point and the old lighthouse, one of Tairawhiti’s scenic treasures. Pictures by Liam Clayton
Tuahine Point Ecological Trust chairman Sandy Bull with some of the trees planted in 2004 and the point in the background.
The Telecom tower ‘peak’.
Sandy with a dead hedgehog, one of the worst predators of eggs and the young of ground-nesting birds.
The view of Wainui from the ridge.
SAVED BY THE BELLS: members of the Tuahine Point Ecological Trust got together to reflect on the progress made during seven years of restoration at the northern side of the entrance to Poverty Bay. On the seat dedicated to their parents Rose and Les Bell are (front row, seated) Warwick Bell and Alayne Jones, with Colleen and Sandy Bull (chairman) and Diane Hintz, also of the Bell family; (middle row) Malcolm Piper (QEII Trust), Margot Calcott (trust secretary), Nigel Hope (Native Garden Nursery); (back) Mayor Meng Foon and Department of Conservation area manager Andy Bassett. The Gisborne Herald, November 10, 2009
Sandy Bull in his element at Tuahine Point.
Tuahine Point.
Tuahine Point.
Tuahine Point.
Tuahine Point.
Sandy surveying planting at Tuahine Point.

The “Three Peaks” walk at Tuahine Point has become a favourite Sunday morning jaunt for our small group of keen Gizzy hikers. The views are breathtaking, among the best in Tairawhiti. You can see all the way to Mahia Peninsula in one direction, Wainui Beach and Makorori Headlands in the other, Sponge Bay and Tuamotu Island from another vantage point and the entire length of the rugged weather-beaten tongue of land that stretches into the sea with Tuahine Lighthouse at the far end. The exposed north-east face of the point at the southern end of Wainui Beach is storm-battered and deeply eroded while the south-west face on the northern entrance to Poverty Bay has cliffs that drop almost vertically to the sea.

The walk through private land which is open to the public, includes a substantial area gifted to the QE2 National Trust in 2002 by the land owners, the Bell family. It involves a mixture of rough farm tracks and a scramble up steep fence-lines to three high points which our group decided to call peaks because the name is in keeping with the considerable effort involved to reach the summits thereof.

We’ve always marvelled at the extensive plantings of beautiful native trees along the coast, around the dams and on the steep terrain of the point itself but only recently did we discover the full extent of the work and dedication that has gone into the area we so much enjoy.

Last week, we noticed a strong, fit-looking fellow spraying weeds on a steep face below us. We stopped to have a chat and thanked him for spending his Sunday morning with a heavy spray tank on his back, battling blackberry, boxthorn and thistles while we were enjoying the walk and the scenic treasures.

The man was Sandy Bull, 83, the chairman of the Tuahine Point Ecological Trust which was established in 2002, and has planted 20,000 native trees on the 25-hectares placed under the QE2 covenant by the then landowners, Les and Rose Bell.

Sandy, a former farmer and ranger with the New Zealand Wildlife Service, Department of Conservation, and Fish and Game NZ says: “The area was as bare as a badger’s bum before the trust began planting but now the trees are flourishing and we are enjoying the fruits of our labour.”

Sandy showed me photographs of the barren land before the conservation programme began and the steady greening of the landscape after successive years of planting, initially by teams of dedicated volunteers and then by paid workers.

Planting included hardy varieties suited to the harsh environment such as ngaio, flaxes, karo, ake ake, carex and tauhinu (cassinia leptophylla).

There are also over 400 pohutukawa throughout the QE2 covenant and Sandy hopes the area will in time become a “Crimson Walk”.

“We are very grateful for the assistance of Project Crimson, Nigel and Lana Hope at the Native Garden Nursery, Tom Stone who assisted with planting, Gisborne District Council, Eastland Community Trust, the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird, Gordon Webb who assisted with the legal aspects of establishing the charitable trust in 2002 and the Williams family trusts.

“I also want to thank Malcolm Piper from the QE2 National Trust for his work in covenanting the land.

“We couldn’t have even considered the project without their generous support,” he says.

“I also acknowledge the strong historical relationship that local iwi, Ngati One One, has with Tuahine Point.”

The genesis of the project goes back 15 years when Sandy approached Les Bell with the idea of retiring a portion of Tuahine Point for conservation purposes.

The area in question was steep hill country surrounded by eroding cliffs.

“Les gave us the go-ahead so we fenced it off with financial assistance from the QE2 National Trust and the Ministry of Forestry.

“Fencing is a giant leap forward because you can then exclude domestic livestock, retire the area and begin planting.

“In 2003, we started planting and we did as much as funding allowed every year until 2010.

“It’s an exceptionally hard piece of country to get into, especially the steeper parts. We had to load the trees on the back of 4WD motorbikes and transport them as close as we could to the planting sites. All you could see was the driver’s head sticking up above what looked like a mobile maimai.”

The area had to be spot-sprayed for weed control a couple of months before planting and then for three years post-planting.

Erosion, drought and flood took their toll on the plants but overall the project has been highly successful, he says.

“We have had some major slips and we are not kidding ourselves we will save the point entirely but the planting has certainly stabilised the land significantly.

“Once the trees get a bit of size on, they provide a canopy and roots that protect the ground from erosion.

“We now have a wide variety of birdlife on the property. Among the seabirds are caspian terns, white front terns, Australasian gannets, cormorants (black, little and pied shags), little blue penguins and gulls. Land-based species include tui, bellbirds, kereru, white-faced herons, grey warblers, moreporks, pheasants and passerines (a wide range of smaller, perching birds such as sparrows, finches and starlings),” he says.

With the area now fully planted, Sandy spends three or four days a week on the property, waging a perpetual war on pests and weeds, and looking after the cattle on the gazing area outside the covenant.

“It’s a relentless battle, one you can never afford to stop. On an area like this as opposed to an island, you are only ever catching what’s on your land so it’s never-ending. You must never run out of resolve or money.

“You are forever trying to control the effects of feral animals on the population of native birds and vegetation.

“The main predators of birds are the mustelid family (ferrets, stoats and weasels), rats, feral cats and hedgehogs, while hares, rabbits and possums are a threat to vegetation, especially young plants.

“Hedgehogs are among the worst offenders because they eat the eggs and the young of ground-nesting birds,” says Sandy.

“We were assisted in the early stages of the project by the animal control division of the Gisborne District Council who targeted rabbits, hares, possums and cats,” he says.

“Tuahine Point is a very special place for me. I’ve been involved with the conservation project for 15 years and I never get sick of the magnificent views up here. Some of the best you will find anywhere.

“We’ve come a long way since the first plantings in 2002 and the current owner, Les and Rose’s son Warwick Bell, is very pleased with the result,” says Sandy.

“Members of the public are welcome here as long as they respect the property, leave the gates as they found them and bring no vehicles, dogs, cats or horses on to the land.

“Visitors need to be aware that there are livestock, electric fences and animal traps on the property.

“Those who visit are generally hikers, runners and people who just want to come up here to enjoy the scenery and the magnificent sunsets.

“By following a farm track and dropping down to the beach on the Wainui side of the point, you can walk to Tuahine Lighthouse at low tide and all the way along the coast to Murphy Road.”

Some keen walkers have suggested a possible walkway along the ridge from Kaiti Hill via Sponge Bay to link to Tuahine Point but a lot of water would have to flow under many bridges before that could happen, says Sandy.

“It would be spectacular,” I say optimistically, hoping to encourage the idea.

The “Three Peaks” walk at Tuahine Point has become a favourite Sunday morning jaunt for our small group of keen Gizzy hikers. The views are breathtaking, among the best in Tairawhiti. You can see all the way to Mahia Peninsula in one direction, Wainui Beach and Makorori Headlands in the other, Sponge Bay and Tuamotu Island from another vantage point and the entire length of the rugged weather-beaten tongue of land that stretches into the sea with Tuahine Lighthouse at the far end. The exposed north-east face of the point at the southern end of Wainui Beach is storm-battered and deeply eroded while the south-west face on the northern entrance to Poverty Bay has cliffs that drop almost vertically to the sea.

The walk through private land which is open to the public, includes a substantial area gifted to the QE2 National Trust in 2002 by the land owners, the Bell family. It involves a mixture of rough farm tracks and a scramble up steep fence-lines to three high points which our group decided to call peaks because the name is in keeping with the considerable effort involved to reach the summits thereof.

We’ve always marvelled at the extensive plantings of beautiful native trees along the coast, around the dams and on the steep terrain of the point itself but only recently did we discover the full extent of the work and dedication that has gone into the area we so much enjoy.

Last week, we noticed a strong, fit-looking fellow spraying weeds on a steep face below us. We stopped to have a chat and thanked him for spending his Sunday morning with a heavy spray tank on his back, battling blackberry, boxthorn and thistles while we were enjoying the walk and the scenic treasures.

The man was Sandy Bull, 83, the chairman of the Tuahine Point Ecological Trust which was established in 2002, and has planted 20,000 native trees on the 25-hectares placed under the QE2 covenant by the then landowners, Les and Rose Bell.

Sandy, a former farmer and ranger with the New Zealand Wildlife Service, Department of Conservation, and Fish and Game NZ says: “The area was as bare as a badger’s bum before the trust began planting but now the trees are flourishing and we are enjoying the fruits of our labour.”

Sandy showed me photographs of the barren land before the conservation programme began and the steady greening of the landscape after successive years of planting, initially by teams of dedicated volunteers and then by paid workers.

Planting included hardy varieties suited to the harsh environment such as ngaio, flaxes, karo, ake ake, carex and tauhinu (cassinia leptophylla).

There are also over 400 pohutukawa throughout the QE2 covenant and Sandy hopes the area will in time become a “Crimson Walk”.

“We are very grateful for the assistance of Project Crimson, Nigel and Lana Hope at the Native Garden Nursery, Tom Stone who assisted with planting, Gisborne District Council, Eastland Community Trust, the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird, Gordon Webb who assisted with the legal aspects of establishing the charitable trust in 2002 and the Williams family trusts.

“I also want to thank Malcolm Piper from the QE2 National Trust for his work in covenanting the land.

“We couldn’t have even considered the project without their generous support,” he says.

“I also acknowledge the strong historical relationship that local iwi, Ngati One One, has with Tuahine Point.”

The genesis of the project goes back 15 years when Sandy approached Les Bell with the idea of retiring a portion of Tuahine Point for conservation purposes.

The area in question was steep hill country surrounded by eroding cliffs.

“Les gave us the go-ahead so we fenced it off with financial assistance from the QE2 National Trust and the Ministry of Forestry.

“Fencing is a giant leap forward because you can then exclude domestic livestock, retire the area and begin planting.

“In 2003, we started planting and we did as much as funding allowed every year until 2010.

“It’s an exceptionally hard piece of country to get into, especially the steeper parts. We had to load the trees on the back of 4WD motorbikes and transport them as close as we could to the planting sites. All you could see was the driver’s head sticking up above what looked like a mobile maimai.”

The area had to be spot-sprayed for weed control a couple of months before planting and then for three years post-planting.

Erosion, drought and flood took their toll on the plants but overall the project has been highly successful, he says.

“We have had some major slips and we are not kidding ourselves we will save the point entirely but the planting has certainly stabilised the land significantly.

“Once the trees get a bit of size on, they provide a canopy and roots that protect the ground from erosion.

“We now have a wide variety of birdlife on the property. Among the seabirds are caspian terns, white front terns, Australasian gannets, cormorants (black, little and pied shags), little blue penguins and gulls. Land-based species include tui, bellbirds, kereru, white-faced herons, grey warblers, moreporks, pheasants and passerines (a wide range of smaller, perching birds such as sparrows, finches and starlings),” he says.

With the area now fully planted, Sandy spends three or four days a week on the property, waging a perpetual war on pests and weeds, and looking after the cattle on the gazing area outside the covenant.

“It’s a relentless battle, one you can never afford to stop. On an area like this as opposed to an island, you are only ever catching what’s on your land so it’s never-ending. You must never run out of resolve or money.

“You are forever trying to control the effects of feral animals on the population of native birds and vegetation.

“The main predators of birds are the mustelid family (ferrets, stoats and weasels), rats, feral cats and hedgehogs, while hares, rabbits and possums are a threat to vegetation, especially young plants.

“Hedgehogs are among the worst offenders because they eat the eggs and the young of ground-nesting birds,” says Sandy.

“We were assisted in the early stages of the project by the animal control division of the Gisborne District Council who targeted rabbits, hares, possums and cats,” he says.

“Tuahine Point is a very special place for me. I’ve been involved with the conservation project for 15 years and I never get sick of the magnificent views up here. Some of the best you will find anywhere.

“We’ve come a long way since the first plantings in 2002 and the current owner, Les and Rose’s son Warwick Bell, is very pleased with the result,” says Sandy.

“Members of the public are welcome here as long as they respect the property, leave the gates as they found them and bring no vehicles, dogs, cats or horses on to the land.

“Visitors need to be aware that there are livestock, electric fences and animal traps on the property.

“Those who visit are generally hikers, runners and people who just want to come up here to enjoy the scenery and the magnificent sunsets.

“By following a farm track and dropping down to the beach on the Wainui side of the point, you can walk to Tuahine Lighthouse at low tide and all the way along the coast to Murphy Road.”

Some keen walkers have suggested a possible walkway along the ridge from Kaiti Hill via Sponge Bay to link to Tuahine Point but a lot of water would have to flow under many bridges before that could happen, says Sandy.

“It would be spectacular,” I say optimistically, hoping to encourage the idea.

• The Tuahine Point Ecological Trust members are chairman Sandy Bull; Malcolm Piper (QE2 National Trust); Andy Bassett (DOC); secretary Margot Calcott and members Stuart Patrick and Annabel Reynolds.

• To do the walk, go along Murphy Road (Wainui), turn right into Lloyd George Road, turn left at the letterbox marked 34, turn right above the dark red shed, go through two gates, one marked National Park, making sure you close them, and then head up the track to the top of the hill. The “Three Peaks” we like to climb are the high points where a Telecom and cellphone tower, trig station and the Tuahine Point light tower for shipping are located but you can construct your own hike. The narrow ridge that runs down to end of the point is steep and very unstable so should not be attempted, says Sandy.

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