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Balls Clearing is an outstanding podocarp forest of unusual density and quality. A close canopy lets through only determined scraps of light and the understorey is thick with mahoe, horopito, mapou and mistletoe.
Balls Clearing Scenic Reserve is located 4.5 km north of Puketitiri. Turn right into Pakaututu Road and continue 1 km to a large clearing on the left with 2 picnic shelters and toilet. The start of the track is signposted on the right, just after entering the reserve.
The even track loops through the lowland podocarp forest and gives a good taste of the forest character.
The podocarps are divided into 2 age groups. The rimu, kahikatea and matai are around 600 years old, whereas most others are around 320-380 years old. From around 1280 AD a warm and stormy period, known as the Waihirere, engendered widespread erosion. The oldest trees in the reserve date from about this time.
The clearing was covered with Festuca novaezealandiae, silver tussock and monaoao. Herbs mosses and sedges also took advantage of the wet soils. The surface of the clearing was uneven, mottled with wind thrown pits and mounds. It is postulated that during the Matawhero Period, around 400 years ago, episodes of strong south west gales toppled trees. As they fell, their roots excavated large hollows. When the wind fallen trees decomposed the soil attached to the roots was deposited as a mound.
The long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) is a resident of the reserve. They live in roosts 20 meters above the ground. Nocturnal eavesdropping is the only way to witness their presence.
Up to the 1870s, a 5,000 hectare area was known as Puketitiri Bush, but was ravaged by axe and saw until the late 1920s. In 1918 Frank Hutchinson bought the area and it became Hutchinson Scenic Reserve. By 1924 most trees had been removed by selective logging. Early attempts to tame the wholesale destruction failed due to lack of financial support. In 1926 the Crown purchased 205 hectares with the aim of converting it to commercial forest. Dismayed that so much of the region had already succumbed to logging, David Bathgate, a general practitioner from Hastings, headed a deputation to Wellington with a petition on a scroll 14 metres long, containing 1223 names. Prime Minister Coates rejected the petition, fearing any conservation of the forest would be detrimental to the workforce of Puketitiri, but eventually Parliament was convinced to preserve 36 hectares. The area was later enlarged to 135 hectares. Milling in the area ceased in 1941 and Balls Clearing was gazetted a scenic reserve in 1945.
The reserve is named after John Ball, who lived in the clearing during the 1890s. There are many stories surrounding John (Jack) Ball. He was a larger then life character whoa arrived in Napier in 1888 from England and acquired 71 hectares of land around the present day reserve. The bush was so dense, he couldn’t even clear a place to build a hut, so chose a site in the clearing.
Jack once became impatient with a stubborn horse, who refused to haul a heavy iron roller to flatten the paddock. Steaming with fury, Jack lost his patience, assumed the harness and pulled the roller himself. Meanwhile the neighbour looked on in disbelief as the horse nonchalantly grazed.
One day Jack lost an eye when a fencing staple ricocheted and blinded him. Not to be beaten by the disability, he purchased a one eyed horse he called ‘Gunner’ and one eyed dog, ‘Clyde’.
In his book Back Country Tales, author, bushman and poet Lester Masters, writes this poem about Jack:
Old Jack was a one eyed gunner,
With a one eyed horse and dog,
And yet he was the kind of joker,
Who could find a way in a fog
North Island ▷ Hawkes Bay ▷ Napier
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍