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Courtesy of NZ Today Magazine
BETWEEN THE TARARUA RANGES to the east and the ocean to the west lies the Kapiti Coast, a haven for New Zealand’s natural flora and fauna. Kapiti-Horowhenua may be on a well-known scenic coast, but its landscape and tourism operators offer much more. Visitors to the region are often surprised when they find the area has such a rich and exciting history and even more exciting when they discover the many innovative businesses that call Nature Coast their home.
The iconic Kapiti Island, now a world renowned bird sanctuary was once the home of the great Maori chief, Te Rauparaha. On the shores of Lake Waiwera, often referred to as Lake Papaitonga and situated just 6km south of Levin, is where this great chief and his warriors fought in one of the fiercest Maori wars. Walter Buller, an early resident and Member of Parliament saved much of the natural environment around the lake from extinction. Today you will find the low-land forest he fought for, forest once said to be part of Gondwanaland. He was recognised by Darwin for his determination to save the delicate balance of nature existing during the last quarter of the 19th century.
It’s this delicate balance that makes the coast so appealing. Today, among the variety of bird life, fantails fly overhead and the Nikaus grow abundantly alongside other native plants. Nature Coast, the region’s tourism agency, has incorporated the Fantail and the Nikau into new brand imagery. As Bev Edlin, Communications and Strategy explains, “the fantail exhibits an ability to adopt and change and such qualities are demonstrated by the emerging business right along the coast”.
Promoting the Nature Coast is not a challenge but sheer pleasure says Chris Barbor the region’s tourism manager. “There is something for everyone. The only problems will be deciding where to stop and what to choose from the menu. During weekends you will find many people from outside of the region heading north to their favourite café, and you will find wine lovers with a glass in their hand. But don’t let it stop there. For those with an adventurous spirit it’s the ideal place to stop over for a weekend and take the time to visit one of the many tourism ventures where you can have close encounters with its abundant bird life or its magnificent flora and fauna or any of the new ventures that are being established”.
Talking with Chris highlights the diversity. He starts by talking about the well known motoring memories. The Southward Car Museum he says is a place where all but the youngest generations can meet up with long-lost friends, and find memories of a lost, and even possibly, a misspent youth. It has the most comprehensive privately owned collection of vintage and veteran cars in the Southern Hemisphere, so almost everyone’s bound to find a car from their past.
For many visitors, it’s the Holden’s and later model Fords that really stir up the nostalgia. There probably aren’t too many visitors however, who will find the memories flooding back as they stand in front of the Cadillac Gangster Special 1950.
This car was owned by gangster Mickey Cohen who once worked for the notorious Al Capone. The Cadillac has a few extras not found in your average family saloon — a bomb-proof floor, amour-plated doors, 40mm thick windows, and an especially handy feature for a gangster in a tight space — a hinged windscreen through which one could point a gun.
Almost all the 200 or more cars on display have stories to tell – there’s a Stutz racing car from 1915 and a Darracq 1905 that is believed to have been used in US President Truman’s inauguration parade. This car is one of only 17 ever built.
As Chris will tell Southward’s has much, much more. There are fire engines, aircraft, 80 motorbikes (including a 1929 Indian), even a gaudy, gleaming Jeepney from the Philippines. If you want a change from the world of transport there’s even a mind-boggling collection of salt and pepper sets.
The museum is about to undergo redevelopment work, with a new entranceway and restaurant/café facility. So, even if you’ve visited this top New Zealand attraction before, it could be time for a fresh look.
Have you driven through Foxton on State Highway 1 recently and not turned left on the main street? If you did, you missed a gem of a historic town.
Foxton’s treasures, if not exactly hidden, do involve the shortest of detours into its main street (called, appropriately enough Main Street) to discover.
The town, founded in 1855, and the oldest in the Manawatu, can genuinely claim to have some unique attractions. The 30 murals that adorn buildings in the town make Foxton one of the largest outdoor art galleries in the country. Imaginatively conceived and beautifully executed, these paintings tell stories of the region’s past, from Maori myths, and local identities (including a horse!) to major community dramas.
If the murals were not enough to capture visitors’ imagination, the exact working replica of a 17th Century Dutch windmill certainly will.
De Molen (the Mill in Dutch) was built and operated by a team of volunteers and produces its own range of corn and rye meals, kibbled rye and wheat, and wheat flour.
The story of how plans were sent out from the Netherlands and equipped with the latest in composite millstones is a fascinating one. The team even had on-site advice from experts who came out from the Netherlands to help.
Adjacent to the mill is a working flax stripper museum, the only place in the world where you can see flax stripped, and a reminder of the importance this fibre played in the town’s formative years. If that wasn’t enough Foxton also has a trolley bus museum, working horse drawn tram and the National Museum of Visual Arts and Sciences.
From the ashes of a tragedy that shook Maoridom, has arisen a taonga that not only highlights Maori heritage and untold hours of volunteer effort, but also has restored a vital and historical church to the Otaki community.
It’s been nearly 10 years in the completion, but parishioners and visitors to the Rangiatea Church would all agree it has been worth the wait.
Back in 1995, the 148-year-old church was known as the oldest surviving Maori Church in New Zealand, and was regarded by many as the country’s Maori Cathedral. However, in October 1995, just 11 months after a major restoration project had been completed; the beautiful church was destroyed by fire.
This was not the end for Rangiatea however, because the confederation of iwi and hapu local tribes and sub-tribes of, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa and Te Atiawa decided to rebuild the church. This was no simple reconstruction project either – the tribes undertook to recreate Rangiatea in all its glory.
One of the most ambitious parts of the project was completed first. The replication of the 76 woven tukutuku panels — 230sqm in all, was carried out by a team of 22 women and one man. Kiekie plant fibre strips, 130,000 of them, were collected, washed, prepared and dried for the panels.
The work on the building itself began in February 2002 and the first church service was held at Rangiatea on November 23, 2003. A remarkably short time, given the scale of the project. The roof alone is lined with 60,000 toetoe stems. It is held aloft by three magnificent totara poles, one from Taupo, is thought to be about 1000 years old, the others are aged up to 600 years old and were brought from Waikaremoana.
Surplus timber from these trees was used for the altar rail and gate which took a master carver about 2800 hours to recreate. The carver worked from old photos of the church with a master joiner to replicate the original construction and patterns on the railings.
One of the finishing touches for the church took on an international flavour. As two women on the church Vestry began to embroider replacement kneelers for the pews, word spread about the project and women from around the world asked to be able to contribute. Among the kneelers is one embroidered by former Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright.
To experience the beauty of the coast you could start the day driving more modern wheels. Kapiti Four x 4 operate in 18,000ha of native bush inland from Paraparaumu.
Dusty and Denise Miller have watched thousands of visitors arrive at their complex as nervous townies only to be transformed a few minutes later as they slosh through mud, and gun the powerful 300CC Honda quad bikes up banks and along river beds.
As full tuition is offered before Dusty, or one of his other guides, sets off with clients on one of the numerous trails, the Four x 4 Adventure experience is open to everyone, even if they’ve never even sat on a motorbike before.
The Millers see people of both sexes, from all walks of life and of all ages relishing the challenge of the rugged tracks.
“An Englishman in his 70s is a regular. He turns up with a walking stick but has no trouble on the bike,’’ Dusty says “He reckons it’s the fastest wheelchair he’s been on. Then there’s overseas businessmen who arrive in suits and go out and have a ball and women executives who trade their high heels for gumboots and reckon it’s awesome.’’
Dusty was a suit-wearer himself before starting the business in 1999. He’d been inspired to change careers after seeing a similar operation in Rotorua.
“I wrote a business plan that night, and told Denise she needed to resign because I was.’’
Gumboots, waterproof clothing and helmets are provided for clients who can head into the hills for an hour, or even overnight. Whatever tour you choose, make sure you try Denise’s homemade scones – another reason visitors drive away happy.
However to experience the bird life is a must seeing a kaka in the wild is a rarity for most New Zealanders these days. But, visitors to Nga Manu Nature Reserve in Waikanae are guaranteed to meet one, and if they’re very lucky, might even have one of the endangered birds sit on their head.
The 15ha reserve is something of a hidden jewel on the Kapiti Coast. It contains the largest single remnant of native lowland coastal swamp forest on the Kapiti Coast, and is home to 700 plant and 56 bird species.
What makes this beautiful reserve is its top facilities and important breeding programmes extra special is that it is operated by a charitable trust. The trust’s aims are to create a reserve for endangered New Zealand flora and fauna, and educate New Zealanders, especially children, about the country’s natural heritage.
The reserve contains several aviaries designed to allow visitors to stand in the birds’ habitats. Kakariki, kea and kaka are housed in these aviaries and the kaka happily perch on visitors to check them out for any tidbits.
New Zealand’s living fossil, the tuatara, is another special Nga Manu resident. They have bred well here and have made a significant contribution to tuatara populations reintroduced to some of the country’s island reserves. The reserve alsocares for injured and sick kereru (native pigeons) and operates a soft-release programme – allowing the birds to fly free when they are ready, but providing food as they adjust to life on the “outside”.
Manager Bruce Benseman is also very proud of the way the existing forest has been augmented through extensive revegetation work. Plants range from native grasses through to a 400-year-old kahikatea. “Twenty-five years ago some of the reserve was just bare sand-dune. Now we even have kauri self-seeding.”
Set among the trees is a series of ponds and islands. Native eels (there are even eel-feeding sessions at the reserve) live in the water, and one of the islands is a sanctuary for some of New Zealand’s rarest plants. Look for the moa too!
It’s an elemental pleasure - roaring through deep lakes of muddy water and not worrying about getting your feet wet or your clothes dirty.
Unless you want to spend long and possibly cold nights, standing very quietly in the New Zealand forest you are unlikely to have a close encounter with the country’s only native owl.
Which is why Owlcatraz in Shannon is the perfect place to get up close and personal with the ruru or morepork. It’s the only wildlife park in New Zealand that has given this bird a starring role.
Owlcatraz has been developed by Janette and Ross Campbell. It’s been a labour of love as the 10ha property was once the site of Shannon’s first rubbish dump. They began planting eucalyptus and other trees and shrubs in 1995 – the result is a thickly forested hillside leading down to a plant-fringed stream. A lake, complete with island, is the latest development.
But it’s the moreporks that are Owlcatraz’s special attraction. Owl Capone, Owle Macpherson, Owlvis Presley, and hand-reared babies Owlbert Einstein, Owlmo and Owlfalafa live in an aviary designed to recreate to near perfection their living conditions in the wild.
Moreporks are nocturnal so the aviary is kept in darkness during the day so that visitors have the opportunity to see the birds at their most active. It’s a challenge at first to find them, as they do a great job imitating tree stumps when perching. The birds are not pets, but are unafraid of visitors, who can easily view their plumage, large eyes and if lucky, their silent flight.
Once the home of the world’s largest cattle beast, Big Red (who weighed in at 2000kg but died in 2004), Owlcatraz is well on the way to finding a replacement. Big Snow who is already 1800kg and may one day break Big Red’s record. He has a paddock mate with a famous mother. Tuggy’s Buoy is the calf of Cow 569, who shot to fame in the Manawatu floods of 2004 after saving the life of farmer Kim Riley.