Encompassing some of the highest mountains in New Zealand outside the Southern Alps, Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia Clarence is of national significance geologically and for the many rare, interesting and unique native plants and animals it harbours.
There are vistas of convoluted mountains and twisted rock formations; small streams rushing to the mighty Clarence River and gardens of alpine plants on craggy slopes and pinnacles.
Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia Clarence protects some of the highest mountains in New Zealand outside the Southern Alps. It is of national significance geologically and for the many rare, interesting and unique native plants and animals it harbours.
Due to its relatively dry climate, the area escaped extensive glaciation during the Ice Age. Instead of glacial features, landforms above the original bushline are a result of mass movement of rock and debris. In places, it seems the very bones of the mountains are revealed - chalky white outcrops of limestone, contrasting vividly with deep-red remnants of ancient underground volcanic activity.
The vegetation forms a complex mosaic of tussock grasslands, shrublands, forest, flaxes, screefields and bare rock. Several threatened plants, a number of species at their northern or southern limits and numerous plants endemic to the region are found here. These include the rare pink broom, New Zealand lilac, coral daisy and Marlborough rock daisy. Despite overgrazing, burning, spraying and damage by pests, the lower altitudes still support some important remnant communities. The many bluffs are goat-proof havens for plants, some of which live only on the limestone outcrops. Introduced weeds, such as hawkweed and briar, are also a major nuisance.
The Seaward Kaikoura Range is a very important area for a whole range of native animals. Eleven species of lizard have been recorded, including the threatened black-eyed gecko and scree skink. The New Zealand falcon occurs throughout the area; and kea live in the alpine zone. Blind Saddle is one of the most important areas known for large invertebrates in New Zealand: two weta species, a tussock butterfly and two speargrass weevil species survive there. Introduced animals, including rabbits, pigs, stoats, hares and possums, pose a threat to the native wildlife and vegetation.
Maori living at the mouth of the Clarence River used the river valley as a route through to Waiau for at least 750 years. In 1857 the first sheep runs were taken up in the Clarence by Joseph Ward and C. F. Watts.
By 1890 no lessee could be found for the difficult runs, which were infested with scab, a skin disease in sheep. The area became part of the Crown’s reserve of unoccupied pastoral lands. Access was always a major obstacle. Horses were a valuable asset and the old pack track can still be seen in places. The modern vehicle track was only completed in 1969.
The leaseholders used materials at hand for building their homes and farm buildings. Trees, including introduced species, such as willow and elm, were used for framing. Cob was used for constructing walls; sometimes even the dog kennels and outside ovens were made from this mixture of mud and tussock.