A walk past some big trees to a very big tree. Big Tree Walk passes through Agnes Mills Bush. Sometimes likened to Kiri-kiri-katata, daughter of Tarahaoa and Hua-te-kerekere, eponymous Maori ancestors.
Peel Forest is well signposted 14 km from the Inland Scenic Route. There is a campground and large parking area named Te Wanahau. The shelter has an information board with the track network displayed.
The start of the track is signposted from Te Wanahau carpark.
The track is on a good surface and passes some big totara and kahikatea on the way to a breathtakingly large tree.
All those green paddocks you pass on your travels around New Zealand were once covered in forest. With human arrival around 800 years ago land clearance started. Maori burned large areas to aid moa hunting and cultivation of aruhe, a fern root and primary form of starch.
Destruction rapidly accelerated with the arrival of Europeans and their desire to establish European style farms. The cultural meme of the time was that the forest was an enemy to be tamed. In a matter of decades, there was a 70% decline in forest cover over both islands. The only forest that was left was on land too steep, infertile or inaccessible. The rest was burned, stumped, cleared, logged and planted in European grasses.
Remnant trees such as these large living examples are a poignant reminder of the forest which once covered these islands.
The forest would originally have been dominated by totara, with matai and kahikatea with an understorey of matipo, konini, ribbonwood and houhere. Some areas were burned by Maori to be replaced by a regenerating assemblage of matagouri, tussock, ti kouka (cabbage tree) and toitoi, which recolonised the plains.
When Europeans arrived they first burned the forest, finding the grasses which sprouted palatable to stock. Then came the stumpers, who used gelignite explosions to loosen the holdfasts. Matai roots were apparently the ultimate in firewood. Wallaby-jacks and donkey-jacks were among the tools used by notable stumpers such as George Stokes, who sold his wife for 5 shillings.
The totara was revered amongst Maori for its strength. They carved waka, built whare and carved food boxes from the hard wood. For early settlers, totara was the preferred wood for use in fence posts, power poles, railway sleepers and bridges. As it was resistant to the teredo worm, it also found favour in the construction of wharves.
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.
South Island ▷ Canterbury ▷ Geraldine
Very well maintained track. Easy to do. Highly recommended. Well signed.
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Even in the pouring rain we enjoyed this walk and the BIG trees are really impressive! Fantails are very brave and come close.
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easy track with lots of friendly fan tails would highly recommend.
Good walk, well signed.
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 😍