Restoring the scorched Port Hills

Di Carter watched helplessly as a raging inferno whipped over the valleys and hills she knows so well. 

The blaze raged in Christchurch's Port Hills for days, smouldered for weeks and was officially declared extinguished 66 days after it first ignited.

"Each day was a roller coaster of shock, then relief," Carter says.

Four months on, the Christchurch City Council park ranger is still counting the cost.

She has coordinated the planting of 350,000 native plants across the Port Hills’ public reserves. The fire tore through four reserves including Ohinetahi Bush and Kennedys Bush. 

The Port Hills’ plantings perform a vital function, stopping soil washing into the catchment streams and ultimately into the Heathcote River and the estuary.

Thousands of plants have been dug in by volunteers, and that planting programme is now back in full swing. 

Carter says it’s vital to the establishment of native vegetation, especially in the Bowenvale Valley.

"The grass here is just so thick that the seeds the birds drop just don't get through the grass thatch … so planting is the only way to get that process going," she says. "There's an opportunity now to plant a higher proportion of the species that are less flammable."

Carter has been encouraged by the natural regeneration processes. "Bracken is the first to colonise and allows other natural species to come in," she says. Green flax tillers, or shoots, are coming away in the middle of blackened stumps.  "They’re responding incredibly well."

But she knows the task ahead is immense.

"Sixteen years of planting is nothing when you've got 800-year-old trees that have been saved, so you just get down and start planting again."

At the top of Mount Ada, Carter listens for the birdsong.

"The crescendo of bellbird birdsong from Ohinetahi Bush would meet you at the top and it was a beautiful place to be and now it's quite quiet."

But as with the native vegetation, she is confident the birds will flourish once more in the Port Hills.