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This has to be one of the most bizarre forests you will ever encounter. The convoluted branches of totara take on the weirdest of forms. Branches grow out at right angles, form loops and generally exhibit shapes not normally encountered in the arboreal world.
Just after crossing the Oreti River on Dunns Road, 6 km from Invercargill, turn right into Sandy Point Domain. Follow the metalled road to the parking area at the end of the park.
Although not part of the same geographic area as the rest of Sandy Point Domain, Kilmock Bush is still classed as part of the Domain.
The initial access to get to the start of the walk proper passes through a pine plantation. Bear left at the fork. The grass clearing with picnic bench is at the edge of Kilmock Bush.
The loop track then follows the gully between ancient dunes, passing over the ridges via steps.
The forest has built up on the dune system, which evolved over the last 6,500 years since stabilisation of sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age.
Sandy Point is a relatively recent geological formation, probably existing since the termination of the last Ice Age around 6,000 year ago. During the melting of the ice sheets, sea levels were between 2 and 8 metres above present levels. These periods of marine transgression are evidenced by deposits of bedded gravels on the high banks on the eastern side of the Oreit River near the Dunns Road bridge. Deposits were also laid down near Otatara. The later rise of 2 metres probably constructed the cliffs of the Otatara Bank of the Oreti River. Radiocarbon dating of shells in the vicinity shows them to be around 4,600 years old. Sandy Point probably started life as an offshore bar at the mouth of the Oreti Rier and subsequent lowering of sea levels contributed to the accumulation of sediments.
Aerial views of the peninsula show a series of parallel shingle ridges, which jut irregular hooks towards the land. These shingle ridges are the old storm beaches and run in a north-west to south-east direction and have now been overlain with sand dunes. This transverse dune system increases in height to the east from Oreti Beach and is most pronounced near Daffodil Bay. In the hollows between the dunes were areas of ponds and lagoons, however these have now been drained or infilled with wind-blown sediment, following removal of the vegetation cover. Shingle extraction operations in the early 1900s also destroyed the old storm beaches.
The striking of branches in the canopy on windy days can be unnerving. The shady forest is pretty spartan below the totara canopy, with only astelia and hound’s tongue fern on the forest floor. Pittosporum tenuifolium, with its wavy leaved margins, pate and red matipo are the only conspicuous shrubs present.
Some trees are entangled in supplejack which drapes over them like nets.
Wind is an ever-present feature at Sandy Point and has a pronounced effect on the area’s character. The constant blowing accelerates evapotranspiration rates and causes the distinctive growth habits of the plants, most notable on the matai and totara trees, which grow in bizarre and convoluted forms. Sandy Point cops the full brunt of the salt-laden westerlies funnelling through Foveaux Strait, which damage plant growth by scouring the new growth at the branch tips and altering the stability of the dunes.
Sandy Point houses a rich and diverse native plant collection, mainly due to the variety of vegetation zones. Over 220 plant species have been recorded here. Initial surveys by C.M Smith in 1924 detailed 11 vegetation zones, including marram and flax, through to swamp and native forest. In around 1936, these initial surveys were followed up by Dr J.E. Holloway. Both researchers surmised that in Pre-European times forest cover was more significant and the native forest was particularly luxuriant.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the vegetation at Sandy Point is the gnarled and twisted branches of matai and totara trees, which protrude at bizarre angles from the main trunk. In fact in some cases the main apical shoot is difficult to determine as the tentacle-like branches sprout directly from the trunk base to all points of the compass. These sculptures are a direct result of the difficulties the trees have had to face competing against the wind.
The podocarp mixed broadleaf forest is mostly characterised by totara and matai, with occasional miro. Rimu was almost completely removed, selective logging ensuring only a few specimens now remain. Fishermen would also strip the bark from living trees to tan their nets and sails.
Other notable forest trees include kamahi, pokaka and lowland ribbonwood. Over 25 fern species are recorded and two species of clubmoss. Liana, native clematis and New Zealand jasmine also abound and pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia) is ubiquitous. Smaller shrubs include copromsa lucida and the Dicksonia tree ferns. The floor is smothered with crown fern and mosses and lichens are prolific in the moist recesses of the forest makeup.
Introduced weeds and plantation are rife on Sandy Pint and included the pinus radiata forest visible on the Petries Track. The native forest has mostly been regenerating from the previous farming exploits of the last 60 years.
In the lagoons, visible on the Daffodil Bay to Hatch’s Hill Loop Track, flax and cabbage trees are common.
Sandy Point was evidently used by early Maori and archaeological finds suggest inhabitation since the 1300s. Moa bones and gizzards are evidence these were hunted in the vicinity and the proximity to kai moana made food sources abundant. Two small kaik existed by the time of the first European visit, one at Oue, the smaller at Noki Kaiaka. Mantell, conducting a census in 1852, recorded 12 Maori living at Sandy Point, most from Ngati maru and Ngati huirapa. Middens and umu (ovens) and one burial site are the legacies of Maori occupation, but it is assumed settlement was transient and seasonal.
The proximity to the harvesting grounds of titi (muttonbird) was another reason the area was inhabited and the totara bark was used for transporting the birds in bags. They were also bound in kelp bags, strengthened with splints of totara bark. The bark was also used for covering houses. Maori also used the rimu bark for pohatiti (bags) often used to hold the harvested titi (muttonbirds). This was formerly a regulated activity by custom.
European habitation commenced from the 1830 with the onset of whaling and a shore whaling station was established at Sandy Point by Joss and Williams. Another station established by Brown and Cater was sited at Omaui. Johnny Jones later bought out both operations and removed the plant to Riverton. Owen McShane, an early hand at the plants, later took up residence at Sandy Point and was known as ‘The Cooper’ on account of his trade. He reached notoriety however for his skilful brewing of rum, derived from the raw ingredient of the plentiful cabbage trees in the area. The large still for distillation was likely the source of peril for the Lynx, a whale oil transporter, which ran aground leaving the estuary in 1837. The drunken state of the crew is the obvious explanation for the mishap, although never recorded as such.
In 1913 a flax mill was constructed on the banks of the Oreti River by Cuthbert Royds, which was later shifted to McLennans Flat. This operation continues until 1970 and used a lighter to carry cargo, flax and firewood to the mill and fibre to Invercargill. The name Sandy Point was generally used in early times to refer to the entire area and followed the name Oue, referring to the Maori village which was abandoned from around 1870.
South Island ▷ Southland ▷ Invercargill
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