Plenty of birdlife in this forest which escaped the loggers
Peel Forest is well signposted 14 km from the Inland Scenic Route. There is a campground and large parking area named Te Wanahau with a shelter, information board with the track network displayed.
The track is best started from the Te Wanahau parking area, where the start of the track is signposted on the opposite side of the road.
The track descends from the terrace into Clarke Flat, where it starts a loop. Head right to complete the loop anticlockwise. The track surface is a mixture of forest floor, mown grass and boardwalk. You will pass 2 sawpit sites after the second stream crossing. Head right along the road back towards the campground. Pick up the track again behind the amenities building and continue back to the junction with Te Wanahau carpark.
Much of the kahikatea in the area was milled.
The forest would originally have been dominated by totara, with matai and kahikatea. It was burned by Maori to be replaced by a regenerating assemblage of matagouri, tussock, ti kouka (cabbage tree) and toitoi, which recolonised the plains.
The remnants today still exhibit these fine specimens, with an understorey of matipo, konini, ribbonwood and houhere.
The kahikatea is a lowland tree, which is often the dominant tree to colonise wet and boggy ground, but also tolerates drier sites. It is the tallest native tree, sometimes topping 60 metres in height, and grows at less than 600 metres altitude. Differing growth stages exhibit differing forms. The rather mangy seedling grows to a distinctive conical form in its youth. When mature, the crown opens out. The wood is straight grained, easily workable and durable. Europeans used the odourless wood to make butter boxes, as it did not impart any undesirable flavours.
Departing from a southern harbour, the waka Arai-te-uru left with Chief Tarahaoa and his wife Hua-te-kerekere. The waka foundered in a storm at Shag Point and many sailors were drowned. Tarahaoa and Hua-te-kerekere wandered inland, settling in a place where the setting sun melted into a mountainous skyline. They asked the gods to metamorphose their physical bodies to mountains after their deaths, wishes which were realised. Big Mount Peel and Little Mount Peel now take their respective names.
Clarke Flat was the site of an old sawmill.
Surveyor Charles Torlesse arrived in 1849 to report on the presence of available coal seams. He named the area ‘Gurdon Forest’. The name was later changed to Peel Forest in recognition of Sir Robert, Peel, the British Prime Minister responsible for founding the Metropolitan Police Force.
Charles Torlesse was among the early surveyor-explorers to assess the Canterbury Plains and the Peel Forest area vis a vis the suitability for conversion to pasturage. He noted the prevalence of matagouri and Spaniard grass, both spiky, uninviting and sometimes dangerous plants to contend with - especially if you are a sheep. Tutu, with it’s poisonous leaves was also a bain for shepherds, who could not dissuade the hungry stock from browsing the foliage which attacked the nervous system.
The first pastoralist, Francis Jollie, took up the run and built a homestead away away from the sheep. His wife evidently wasn’t suited to the rural life and disliked the sound of the bleating. She ordered her home to built far enough away to minimise her annoyance.
It was a tough life for the early pastoralists to turn dense forest into productive sheep country. They needed to burn the tussocks, put up miles of fences, drain swampy areas, set fire to the forest, then destump it, oversow and cultivate. They bred their sheep not only for wool, but the meat market too. With the advent of refrigerated and frozen transport in the 1890s, caracasses could be exported to international markets and finding the right breeds for tasty meat was a matter of trial and error in these new lands.
Pit sawing was a dirty job and bloody hard work. Having dug a pit deep enough for a man to stand in, long enough for a heavy log to be placed over and strong enough to avoid collapse, the timber men would maneuver the freshly cut logs onto stands above the pit. With one chap above and another poor joker, usually the young fella’ below, the team would use long saws to split the log into the desired planks and boards. For the pitsawer below, not only did he have the hard work of sawing, but he was entombed in a grave-like pit and got covered in sawdust.
The sawyers lived in V-huts, thatched with totara bark. Ben Thorne was a notable sawman and got paid the top dollar - 20 /- a hundred feet, 40 / a thousand laths and 20 / a thousand for shingles. Some had nicknames like ‘Ben the Butcher’ and ‘Bill the Snob’.
South Island ▷ Canterbury ▷ Geraldine
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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 😍