Learn about the history of Kaweka Forest Park going back to pre-European times.

In pre-European times there were Māori settlements on the eastern Kaweka foothills, particularly near the head of the Tutaekuri River, which provided an excellent transport route. The Kaweka forests were a good food source and the foothills were at times burned.

The Mangatutu and Mangatainoka Hot Springs were no less attractive in pre-European times than they are today. There were Māori settlements near both springs. The people who lived in the area were the Ngati Mahu and Ngati Hinepare (on the Puketitiri side of the Mohaka River) and the Ngati Hineru (on the river’s true left).

The upper Mohaka River contained renowned eeling grounds and transient camps were established during the eeling season by tribes from as far away as Taupo.

In 1848, missionary-explorer William Colenso found the Kuripapango area so desolate and bereft of vegetation he was moved to write:

“The solitude – which is only broken by the rush of dark water and the shrill beating of the fitful mountain blasts against the grey cliffs… In fact, the whole of the country…is of utmost desolate description.”

Large-scale modification of the forests began in the late 1800’s when merino sheep were grazed over the entire range. Kaweka Flats was once a musterers’ holding paddock. Huge fires were lit to clear the forests. One shepherd wrote “we were given a box of matches as we mustered and told to burn off where we could”.

By the late 1800’s there was considerable farming activity in the area. Pakaututu Station ran sheep over some 7,500 acres between the Ripia and Mohaka Rivers.

The Mohaka faces above the Mohaka-Makino confluence were leased and stocked several miles up river. Grazing also extended into the Makino Valley, despite difficulty of access.

Farmers had also taken up large holdings in inland Patea, an area stretching from Taihape, north to the central volcanoes. Initially the only route to this region was from Hawke’s Bay, via Kuripapango, through the southern Kaweka Range. At first there was only a packhorse track, however by 1881 the road had reached Kuripapango and in 1893 was completed through to Taihape.

Kuripapango became an important stopping place – both for packhorse trains and bullock wagons and as a fashionable holiday retreat for Hawke’s Bay people. Two hotels, which later amalgamated, offered such holiday pursuits as tennis, trout fishing, pig hunting and pheasant shooting. But Kuripapango’s heyday was shortlived.

In 1901 McDonald’s hotel burnt down, and in 1905 the Main Trunk railway was completed, thus negating the need for a transport route from the interior to Hawke’s Bay. The Lumsden family persisted with farming the rugged Kuripapango area for some 50 years. Their farmhouse, built in 1908, was later used by Kaweka Forest worker Morrie Robson. It is known today as Robson’s Lodge and can be booked for public use.

Land to the south of the Mohaka River was farmed from around 1870 by Hawkston Station, which grazed merinos over much of the Kaweka Range. The fern and flax faces were overburned and overgrazed yet soon reverted to the manuka, kanuka and beech regeneration of today.

However, continued burning, trampling by stock then grazing of regrowth either stripped any remaining fertility from the soil, or simply exposed it to be blown or washed away. Erosion was rife. Farming could not be sustained and by about 1900 all but the wild, stray sheep had been mustered out of the southern Kaweka Range, leaving behind bare, exposed hills with poor soils for revegetation.

Other introduced animals later added to erosion problems.

Makahu Road to Mangatutu Hot Springs was first formed in 1915, for horse drawn vehicle. By the 1930’s, this two metre wide road had reverted to a rough track. Efforts by local farmers, community fundraising and assistance from the New Zealand Forest Service resulted in the public road being reopened in 1962. A bridge built over the Mangatutunui Stream in 1990 opened up the road for year round, two-wheel drive access.

The track along the Mohaka River to Te Puia was begun in the 1960’s to be part of the then proposed North Island east west walkway. It was this development, which included blasting through the rocky gorge down stream from Te Puia Lodge that really opened up the area for recreation.

In more recent history, much of the area became State Forest and since 1964 extensive commercial pine forest has been planted, thus changing the landscape dramatically.

In 1974 52,000 hectares of existing State Forest was gazetted as a Forest Park. A further 7,000 hectares was later added bringing the total to 59,000 hectares. The New Zealand Forest Service managed the park until 1987, then was disestablished and the new Department of Conservation took over the management.

Makahu Saddle has been the scene of much scientific research. In 1959, to combat the erosion problems here and elsewhere in the North Island high country, the New Zealand Forest Service established an experimental station at the saddle. For 12 years detailed climatic records were kept and research undertaken to develop revegetation techniques.

Initially access was by foot over the Black Birch Range until the road to Makahu Saddle was completed in 1967.

As a result of these experiments extensive revegetation programmes, using mainly the exotic tree Pinus contorta were carried out in some sections of the Park. Tracks were bulldozed around Makahu Saddle to facilitate the planting.

Today the hardy invasive Pinus contorta has become a major problem for park management, particularly in areas above bushline where it is displacing native plants.

Management is now focusing on controlling the Pinus contorta.

Current management projects include hut and track upgrades, ecosystem protection, public information/education resources and protection of historic assets.

Further reading

The history of farming at Kuripapango (PDF, 1,95K)
A record of events that intends to dispel some of the myths and legends that have slowly developed over time on the nature of farming in the area.

PDF text converted from scan: We used an automated process to provide searchable text within the scan. This text is best-effort, and may contain variations from the original.

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