Nothing better illustrates the progress that can be rapidly made than a few photos that were taken decades apart. Here are three views looking at the main gully and hillside above the Tapu Te Ranga Marae carpark, and one shot from under the established canopy.
This photo was taken around 1994. The first plantings were done in 1991, and most are around 1 metre high. Notice that gorse is rapidly taking over the grassy slopes of the former farmland.
Photo 2 was taken in 2008. The canopy has gotten taller, and the plantings are spreading up the gullies. The gorse has also gotten taller and has become a major problem (along with blackberry) by blocking the tracks, which require a lot of effort to keep open. What isn't visible is that a lot of natural regeneration is occurring under the gorse. The seed source for this comes from the faster-growing species that have already been planted, as well as from nearby regenerating bush in the surrounding Town Belt.
10 years earlier work had begun on establishing understory and future canopy and emergent species, with many nikau, as well as kahikatea, matai, miro and others
Photo 3 was taken recently in early 2018. Like the other two photos, it was taken when the gorse was in flower (bright yellow flowers) as this is the best way of distinguishing gorse from other vegetation. The first thing that really strikes you is how little gorse there is now. Many years of planting along the track sides have resulted in the gorse getting shaded out and dying off, making track maintenance much easier. This method also eventually shades out the blackberry. The canopy has grown up to 15 metres high in the lower gully, and the diversity of underplantings has greatly increased. Natural regeneration continues, with kawakawa becoming abundant. This plant gives this coastal part of south Wellington its' original name of "Paekawakawa".
As gorse is highly flammable, the risk of accidental fire is greatly lowered when forest returns, as many native trees are not as combustible. This has been shown from a couple of accidental fires at Manawa Karioi (possibly started by discarded cigarette butts) and also from several deliberately lit fires over the hill in Happy Valley.
A shot looking up at the canopy near where the fresh-water spring emerges. 20 years ago this was a sunny clearing choked with blackberry. Now the nikau and some of the podocarps are between 3-5 metres high!
Written by Ross Gardiner
Photos by Bernard Smith, Vanessa Patea