Pukekura: the people´s park
Were it not for the Poet’s Bridge, you might think that Simon Hadlow was rowing his daughter and dog into the backblocks. Yet this arcadian vista lies just a few minutes’ stroll from downtown New Plymouth, in a park which provides forest, laws, sports-ground, gardens, performance facilities and a peaceful retreat in the centre of the city.
Akereru copper-green and corpulent, swooped low over the valley on broad, hissing wings. She climbed steeply into the last beams of the setting sun, banked impossibly, then plummeted behind a skyline of ancient puriri trees. Few of the 9000 souls present in the valley that evening saw this exuberant aerobatic display from the Billy Bunter of the pigeon world. Their attention was focused on an emerald-green figure bathed in stage lighting as the strains of Verdi’s “Gypsy Chorus” filled the summer air.
Kiri had returned to the Bowl.
With her were 12 young songsters, whose lyrical support for the diva created two hours of magic in the Taranaki twilight. With a gentle sea breeze stirring the surrounding trees and a fitful moon among the clouds, the night descended and hundreds of hand-held candles lit up faces in the crowd.
Following the serious opera classics of the first half of the performance, the popular airs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin captivated the audience. Finally there was a brief but audible sigh of satisfaction as, on the totally darkened stage, a single spotlight fell on Kiri and she sang her spell-binding signature tune, “Pokarekare Ana.”
The Bowl of Brooklands has not always shone as brightly as it did this night. In 1957, it was nothing more than a swamp in a hollow. But with initiative, provincial enthusiasm and an army of volunteers, the site was transformed into one of the country’s foremost open-air venues. For 15 years the Festival of the Pines was held here, featuring a cavalcade of stars which included The Seekers, Glen Campbell, Cilla Black, Jose Feliciano, Roger Whittaker, Split Enz, Crowded House and UB40.
The conversion of lacklustre land into a fine recreational facility was hardly a new concept for the citizens of New Plymouth. In 1875, the lower reaches of the stream that flows through the Bowl started getting the same treatment from an energetic and sports-minded young solicitor and councillor, Robert Clinton Hughes. Hughes wanted to see a municipal park established in New Plymouth, but the council was nervous that citizens might shy at the rates and levies required to develop such a facility. The canny Hughes and his supporters argued that not only was the land they had in mind of little value, but that the stream flowing through it “might be impounded not only for ornamentation, but also as a convenient source of water for extinguishing fires, providing for public baths, for watering the streets, and for supplying water for domestic purposes.”
To complicate matters, time was running out on provincial government, for the whole system was set to be abolished. On the morning of the last day of the Taranaki Provincial Council’s existence—June 30, 1875—Hughes recruited a board of trustees willing to run the park and take responsibility for costs and development. Its fears thus assuaged, the council’s last act was to pass the Botanical Gardens and Public Recreation Grounds Bill through all its stages, setting aside 35 acres of wasteland covered in “fern, furze [gorse] and tutu” for a park.
Elsewhere around the country (and the world) other parks were being established during this period. Land for Christchurch’s Hagley Park was set aside in 1855, for Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens in 1863 and Wellington’s in 1869, and for Auckland’s One Tree Hill in 1886. Work on Central Park in New York commenced in 1859.
But proclamation does not a park make. The trustees and a band of volunteers quickly set to work in New Plymouth. Surveyors determined the best routes for paths, and youngsters hacked through the undergrowth with slasher and grubber.
On May 29, 1876, sufficient progress had been made to officially open the park, and while the band played and locals looked on, the daughter of a dignitary planted the new park’s first trees: an oak for England, a puriri for New Zealand, a Norfolk pine for the South Pacific and a radiata pine for North America. (This latter was thought to be the first pine planted in Taranaki. A pine that still towers more than 50 metres above Cannon Hill is traditionally considered to be that original tree.)
Curiously, it wasn’t until 1908 that the park was named Pukekura (meaning red hill or possibly kumara-pit hill) after the stream that flows through the valley. Prior to that it was simply “the Rec” (for recreational area), as per the original bill.
For two decades or more the now 50 hectares of Pukekura have been my weekend escape from work, the bustle of city streets, and, on some of the more remote trails, other people. I enjoy the park’s subtle blending of northern- and southern-hemisphere vegetation—a botanical canvas on which the seasons work their artistry: the year-long black and olive of Aotearoa’s forest trees marching in concert with the green-gold summer brilliance and brown winter nakedness of Europe’s planes and alders; the prolific scarlet flowers of rhododendron from the cloud forests of India and China following hard on the heels of kowhai’s yellow panicles.
Deep in the most distant southern reaches of the park, where the gravel track winds among the buttressed roots of pukatea and alongside carpets of saw-edged parataniwha in the swampy soil, the seasons almost disappear in the shady seclusion. Kohekohe, their flower spikes arising ridiculously from trunks and branches, and puriri, their boles scarred and pocked by generations of ghost-moth larvae, form a dark canopy. The air is cool here, and sweat-soaked joggers heave a sigh of relief as they gain the blue shade. Cicadas—there must have been a huge hatch during Taranaki’s La Nina summer of 1998-99—create a quadraphonic crackling that builds in intensity to finally hurt my aging ears.
The cicadas’ song heralds the end of yet another year. My father died this summer, and this heavy-handed brush with mortality seemed to heighten my senses remarkably. His legacy of respect for the natural world, instilled from my earliest years, is now plainly evident. On these solo walks, details of the environment have become more noticeable. I know I saw and noted all these things before, but everything now registers as something finite, and therefore to be savoured.
A little further along, the gully is full of king fern. Here, not 50 metres from a city street, is an infinitesimally small fragment of primeval New Zealand—a glimpse of what once was—with a mass of gleaming fronds rearing four metres from the bush floor. With its large starchy root and frond bases, the magnificent king fern was an early victim of introduced pigs, and today survives tenuously in only a few of our endemic forests.
Elsewhere, the gravel paths are ankle-deep in dead leaves from the canopy of karaka, and the peculiarly acrid smell of the decaying orange flesh of their fallen fruit fills the still air.
The ferns and forest trees of New Zealand—including several of the country’s largest puriri—abruptly give way to the open manicured lawns, formal plantings, beeches, chestnuts and Norfolk pines of Brooklands Park. On this very lawn, marked still by an enormous sandstone-block fireplace, Captain Henry King RN established the original Brooklands homestead in 1842-43. It was here, tradition has it, that the first cheese was made in Taranaki, and King’s farmstead became one of the agricultural showplaces of the fledgling New Zealand Company settlement.
The inmates of nearby Brooklands Zoo provide a touch of avian colour, albeit behind the netting of a new free-flight aviary and the bars of more traditional Victorian-style cells. Recent additions include hybrid macaws of loud and unmelodious voice but impressive size and colour. “Budgies from hell!” a passer-by comments laconically.
South-east Asian otters cut through their musk-laden pools, scratch unconcernedly in the mid-morning sun and crunch small fish as if they were chocolate bars. Across the lawn, the capuchin monkeys, or one of their kind, at least, rocketed the zoo and its staff to media infamy in 1995 when an escapee was shot after several days on the loose.
Also within the ambit of the original Brooklands estate stands one of New Zealand’s foremost historic buildings. The country’s earliest surviving crown health enterprise, the Gables Colonial Hospital, now the Taranaki Arts Society gallery, was built in 1847 at the behest of Governor George Grey. It was designed by the pre-eminent architect of the day, Frederick Thatcher, as one of four in the colony. Within these wooden walls the ebullient and outspoken Scottish surgeon Dr Peter Wilson performed amputations and operations unaware of antisepsis and unconvinced of the efficacy of anaesthetics—at that time a novelty.
Across from the Gables, the access road from the Brooklands ridge drops abruptly down into the valley again and along past the Bowl until the boating lake appears among the trees. This, the park’s main lake, was formed by damming the stream as early as 1878. There was some initial disquiet that the earth dam might collapse and flood the town, and it was later strengthened.
The creation of the lake brought to the good citizens of the town immediate thoughts of bathing. Changing sheds were speedily erected, and a red flag on the hilltop behind them warned New Plymouth’s male population that their female counterparts were swimming in the chilly water, and that their presence was unsought. (Despite the fact that bathing costumes encased everything between neck and knee, it was not considered proper for men and women to bathe together).
The park board, which relied on donations and fundraising even for basic maintenance, sold season permits for the use of the changing sheds, and also (for two shillings and sixpence annually) for catching eels in the lake. The park was always strapped for cash until the local council finally took over the reins in 1929.
At the lower end of the lake, on the dam itself, a red-and-cream toadstool-topped bandstand occasionally finds itself the venue for Sunday afternoon concerts by the scarlet-liveried musicians of the New Plymouth Brass Band. Close by, a marble drinking fountain marks the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. This area, along with its teahouse, boat steps and waterfall, is the hub of the whole park. There are few visitors who would fail to pause in this space, to look back towards the cone of Mt Taranaki/Egmont rising above the waters of the lake or toss a few crusts to the voracious mallards and implore the kids to keep back from the water’s edge.
Visitors can hire clinker-built rowboats with which to demonstrate their prowess in oarsmanship. In male society, while ability in rowing is at least equivalent to perfection in barbecue cooking, many an aspiring Olympic strokesman has ended his career in an uncontrolled, spiralling voyage across the main lake at Pukekura.
Behind the toadstool bandstand rises Cannon Hill—named from the time when several ancient cannon were displayed along its slopes—and on its far side is a smaller lake with a central fountain.
For most communities of the 1950s and ’60s, fountains, formed of water jets of ever-changing shape and complexity, betokened the hope of a new and exciting society. They epitomised the technological richness of the post-war West. Relegated to the status of quaint reminders of the past were the bubbling, gargoyled stone or marble fountains, much-admired half a century before. Pukekura’s 228-jet fountain was installed in 1955 to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh two years earlier. Its spectacular night-time display of 15-metre plumes and coloured lighting took the Taranaki public by storm and undoubtedly set the scene for today’s Festival of Lights.
The festival’s topsy-turvy world, delivered by lighting trees from below with fluorescent tubes in shades of blue, green, red and gold, has become a social phenomenon in the district. During the balmy nights of full summer, thousands of people converge on the park from the darkened streets, suburbs and rural communities. The trickle becomes a stream, the stream a river. There is a strange power operating in each of these nightly gatherings: a unity of purpose that is difficult to comprehend, a fellowship created perhaps by the ability of both young and old to combat a primal fear and to walk easily through a darkened forest in perfect safety.
Near the teahouse, ultraviolet lights suspended over the gravel pathway provide the festival’s highlight. With white shirts glowing indigo, fathers, dragged along unwillingly by their children, seriously hope that they are unseen by workmates or bosses. Excited toddlers, entranced by the multicoloured jewels of fluoro-painted gravel, disappear among the shuffling lahar of adults until recalled by anxious mothers. Pulled from tiny parka pockets in the cold light of morning, the jewels of the night before become merely pieces of painted stone, their fire and beauty vanished as firmly as the recent wonder of Christmas morning.
This year the festival introduced many in Taranaki to kinetic art. Four metres of titanium-hardened steel—the largest manifestation yet of expatriate New Zealand artist Len Lye’s concepts for moving sculptures—held sway over the evening crowd on the Fernery Lawn as it rotated, flexed and reflected spotlights hung among the enclosing trees. Loaned by Lye aficionados John and Lynda Matthews, Large Blade’s deep metallic rumbling passed through turf and air to greet the senses in a manner that would surely have lifted Lye to ecstasy.
From its very inception, Pukekura has elicited such gifts and bequests from civically motivated locals. These outpourings have ranged in form from the truly bizarre to the wonderfully innovative. At various times plaster-of-Paris nymphs, white swans (real ones from the Serpentine), the bones of a beached baleen whale and a short-lived obelisk to a young Anglo-Boer War casualty, Clement Wiggins, have adorned the park and its waters.
Many of the byways and corners of the park are named for the most distinguished of the benefactors and volunteers who have made their mark on Pukekura: Hughes, Horton, Smith and Saxton Walks, Goodwin, Sanders and Stainton Dells.
The much-photographed red wooden bridge on the main lake, based on a Japanese design, was a gift, too. Its evocative name, the Poet’s Bridge, encourages immediate associations of sylvan glades with sunlit, sparkling waters, and perhaps the odd daffodil. Its origins are, however, considerably more prosaic. The Poet was a racehorse, whose speed and ability brought odds and payouts from the Auckland touts sufficient to allow New Plymouth plumber John T Davis to present the structure to the town, in 1884.
Whether plumbing, gambling or some other circumstance proved unbearably distressing we may never know, but a mere seven years later, Davis committed suicide, and was found drowned beneath his gift to the park.
During the summer Festival of Lights, many Taranakians-including these jazz fans pass the balmy evenings enjoying a variety of free concerts in the park.
As I paused in mid-span, a grey-haired woman, wielding a heavy, highly polished miniature alpenstock, was leaning on the red balustrade. We chatted about the weather, and she shared some youthful memories of Pukekura.
“At high school we girls used to try to persuade boys to take us boating. If you could achieve that, all your friends considered you nearly married! Within a year or so it became a bit more serious, and a boat ride with the right man was indeed tantamount to a proposal. It was the nearest thing we had to boating on the Cam—you know, long summer afternoons, languid fingers in the wake . . . and a rowdy group of ‘friends’ around the edge shouting advice!”
She gazed down at the water, her brown eyes not yet discoloured by age. “It’s one of the few places that I can come and not be frightened by change,” she added, quietly. “My family would spend Sunday afternoons here, and I still see families doing the same thing. At least some of them aren’t glued to the TV”
The teahouse, a golden-wedding gift of ex-mayor Charles Burgess and his wife, Ann, opened in 1931. It continues to serve light meals and drinks, with a decor which remains wonderfully redolent of the 1920s.
On a solid garden table outside, I often watch fascinated as Charlie, the resident sulphur-crested cockatoo, clinically demolishes an impressive pile of tightly closed pinecones in his cage. His virginal white plumage and innocent eye seem calculated to entice the unwary, young or callow to include a finger in his diet.
Another early gift proved a little more transitory than the teahouse. With hindsight, and a subsequently gained knowledge of the exuberance of boxthorn growth in Taranaki, it is easy to appreciate that Alexander Hood’s gift of a Hampton-Court-style maze, carefully planted with hedges of Lycium ferocissimum, the South African wonder plant, quickly became “difficult to manage.” It was unceremoniously scrapped soon after.
These days, for the council administration, thorny problems sometimes come in the form of a small, wiry individual whose love of, and commitment to, the park knows few bounds. George Fuller, who retired in 1990 after 25 years as park curator, is patron of a dedicated and vociferous group of Park Friends. Apprehension that economic considerations may lead to arbitrary changes hones their determination to monitor all developments in Pukekura.
I found Fuller and a small group of friends grubbing among the fallen leaves under a large London plane near the Bowl. “We’re not mad or looking for contact lenses,” laughed Fuller, “It’s onionweed—see? It’s well above the ground at this time of the year, but the bluebells haven’t yet made the surface. We’ve got about another week or so before it’s too difficult to distinguish the two—and look!—a spare trowel and bucket!”
Deftly, I distract Fuller with a couple more questions.
“Jack Goodwin was the park’s ‘minder’ from 1949 to 1977,” he tells me. “Just before he retired, he warned me that the whole Pukekura catchment was changing. Encroaching subdivisions were seriously depleting groundwater levels, and were increasing stormwater runoff.” Fuller’s arm swept the valley as he warmed to his subject. “After the big flood of 1995—which came perilously close to destroying the park—a meeting of park supporters formed the Friends. After a few tense years, we’ve now got a good accord and a constructive working relationship with council officers. I believe that our members have expertise that can only assist the park—and we’re willing to pull onionweed!”
Tucked away to one side of the pocket-handkerchief Fernery Lawn, the entrance to the display houses appears, intriguingly unheralded to the wandering visitor.
Inside, and divorced from the open-air ambience of Pukekura itself, curator Ken Davey waves a giant medical-like instrument of exploratory appearance—but recently unclipped from a watering hose—under my nose. He enthuses about the fernery and the elegant, curving lines of its newly erected glasshouses. “This is the jewel in Pukekura’s crown,” he says. “It’s often favourably compared, by those who should know, with Kew.”
The glasshouse network of connecting, damp, mossy tunnels, dug from the volcanic clay in 1927, survived several upgrades and continues to entrance visitors. My chill of speleological apprehension turns to wonder at the colour and form of massed orchids and begonias. Here, in a glass-and-gas-induced Singaporean heat and humidity, I gaze at carnivorous Malaysian pitcher plants and the strange and delicate floral spikes of Masdevallia, Odontoglossum and Brassia orchids. In the cooler houses, rank upon rank of begonial succulence is protected by green-mesh billows of shade cloth.
Davey’s enthusiasm for Pukekura is infectious. A translocated Londoner, he has spent many years in both the park and its nursery. “The real reward for growing plants—for me anyway—is to see someone ‘carried away’,” he tells me. “I saw it happen recently with our Disa orchid—the pride of Table Mountain. It’s really spectacular, and a threatened species. New South African immigrants to New Plymouth often leave here with tears in their eyes.” I recall my own similar response to seeing a Kiwi cabbage tree flourishing in a botanical garden high in the Nilgiri Hills of South India.
Ken Davey and park superintendent Ian McDowell are the latest in an impressive series of curators, all of whom have left a distinctive mark on Pukekura. One of the first was a German from the Rhine, Heinrich Breidecker, with a passion for grape-growing and wine-making. He established a vineyard near the present-day racecourse, but after a year or two headed to Kohukohu on the north side of the Hokianga to devote himself more completely to viticulture.
He was succeeded by an industrious Irishman, John Claffey, who poured a lot of energy into regrassing the terraces of the sports ground—to the point of attaching squares of turf to the vertical surfaces with wooden pegs. Claffey and his pet donkeys presided over the park from 1878 until 1896.
In 1908 came the extraordinary William Walter Smith. The son of a Scottish gamekeeper, Smith became a gardener at English country homes before emigrating to New Zealand, where he continued with this line of work but took a keen interest in natural history. In the 1880s, he discovered laughing owls living near Timaru and was paid three guineas (several weeks’ wages) for every one he could find. In 1903, he was appointed to the Scenery Preservation Commission, and three years later became a curator of reserves for the Palmerston North Council. But he fell out with the mayor, who called him “a common cabbage gardener,” and moved to New Plymouth.
In December 1907, he is thought to have made the last sighting of the now-extinct huia, and at Pukekura he became the first person to get kiwi to breed in captivity. He planted thousands of native trees and ferns in the park, and also established the fish hatchery, producing thousands of young trout which the Acclimatisation Society released in streams throughout the region, as well as in the park’s lakes.
Smith’s enthusiasm for all branches of natural history—from ants on Egmont to fish off the Taranaki coast—made him the target for myriad questions from the public, and the park board eventually moved to limit the time he spent on non-park business. Smith resigned in a huff, aged 68, but was unable to get another position. He continued to live in the town, retaining strong interests in natural history, until his death in 1942.
Thomas Horton, the next curator, remained in charge of the park for 25 years. He came from an orcharding background in Hawkes Bay, and contributed to many areas of the park’s development, including the fernery, the rhododendron dell, a new tea house, new main gates and the incorporation of Brooklands.
Horton was followed by John Goodwin (28 years in the job), George Fuller and Alan Jellyman, all good men and true. The park owes much of its continuity to the vision of these curators, and to the fact that they worked in an era when long-term planning was the accepted norm. The development of 100- to 200-year botanical cycles, without immediate commercial gain, is hopelessly beyond the ken of modern accountants and the whims of national economic and political dogma, and creates many a sleepless night for the more visionary of today’s park supporters.
For convenience, I usually traverse the park from the south, but most visitors enter from the main gates in the east, on Liardet Street, where the first thing that catches the eye is an expanse of carefully cultivated turf. While purists may bewail its batting-average-enhancing boundaries, the intimacy of a cricket game at Pukekura’s sportsground does recreate some of the lost ambience of the game’s more genteel origins on village green and rural domain. In a modern one-day game, though, this intimacy becomes more than a little intimidating as baying fans alternately cheer or berate their teams with contemporary ferocity.
“I’ve not found playing there enhanced my batting,” says Brian Bellringer, a long-time local cricket administrator and player, “but Martin Crowe was always enthusiastic about Pukekura, probably because he made his first 1st-class century there, in 1982. Later that day he heard he’d been selected to play for New Zealand against the Australians.”
Bellringer’s association with Pukekura wasn’t confined to the batting crease or outfield. A city and district councillor for 30 years, he was chairman, or a member, of the parks committee for much of that time. “I’ve walked to work through the park for years. It’s where I toss around thoughts and where I composed most of my council speeches—people often wondered who I was talking to!”
Outside the pavilion that overlooks the sportsground, I pass a Sunday-morning congregation of joggers who stretch scientifically in obedience to the latest fitness theory and chat tensely among themselves. Abruptly, and on some mystic and unseen signal, they wheel to the south, form a phalanx and thump in unison towards the main lake, quickly disappearing through the trees.
The network of pathways in Pukekura is the haunt of the dawn or dusk power-walker and the daytime jogger, as well as the dedicated runner training for more distant goals.
Barbara and Amanda are two friends who, to break the hectic working day, regularly run the park in their lunchtimes. “We’d have to admit we probably don’t see much of the park because we’re too busy talking!” they say. “But running through Pukekura gives us some privacy. We don’t have to worry about street crossings or being watched from passing cars, and there’s a great range of places to run. There are mean little hills, real tough terraces and nice easy flat stuff if we feel like it—and it can all fit into a lunchtime.”
The park, with its forest cover, attracts an impressive range of other two-legged lifeforms. Blackbirds, with their bushfloor scrabblings, are the most obvious, but they are followed closely by thrushes, tui, pigeons, kingfishers, grey warblers and the ubiquitous house sparrows. In spring, shining cuckoos, fresh from their flight from the Solomon Islands, search for unsuspecting foster parents, and in the wilder areas, finches and buntings—gold, green and yellow—explode from the tall grasses and weeds. The nights, though, belong exclusively to moreporks, with their startling repertoire of shrieks and mewings.
In most springs, for the past decade or so, and coinciding with the flowering kowhai, exuberant and noisy kaka have appeared in the park. There are typically between one and three individuals—perhaps juvenile birds hailing from the precariously small populations of the eastern Taranaki hillcountry more than 80 kilometres distant. Local ornithologists live in the hope that a small population will eventually establish itself.
During the winter months, another treat beckons. A surreptitious dive off the path in one or other of several secret places will allow me to carefully harvest enough jelly fungus to flavour my Thai stir fries for the ensuing year. Some will assert that it is more efficient to buy the fungus by the bagful in Asian supply shops, but a barely repressed 10,000-year-old hunter-gatherer urge still survives in many of us.
To any born-and-bred Taranakian, jelly fungus or wood ear, which grows on dead trees, is an integral part of local folklore. The trade in the fungus, initiated in the 1870s by the near-legendary Chinese entrepreneur Chew Chong, provided an income which ensured the survival of many a dairy farmer struggling to maintain cashflow in the embryonic industry of the time. My grandfather’s apocryphal stories of the fortunes made from collecting and selling “Jew’s Ear” to the “Chinees” of Hawera fired the entrepreneurial instincts of a neighbouring friend and me in our primary school days. Otago’s Gabriel’s Gully had nothing on the golden potential of the mahoe stumps of our surrounding farms. The two weighty sugarsacks-full we garnered in a long and exhausting day were borne triumphantly homeward on our 10-year-old shoulders, to be dried to a minuscule halfflourbag. Our respective parents finally convinced us that the returns from the enterprise were unlikely to gain us even the model plane we so urgently required; our Croesus complex evaporated, and we reverted to woodchopping and the odd morning milking to bolster our coffers.
One sunday afternoon, late in autumn, I join George Fuller and a small group of Friends of Pukekura as they explore the southern end of the park. There in the depths of the Maranui gully, yet another of the park’s wonders reveals itself. The incandescence of golden autumnal foliage of the huge shellbark hickory tree, with its walnut-like nuts littering the path, draws gasps of appreciation from our party. Fuller, Pukekura’s walking encyclopzdia, continues his commentary when order is restored: “Maranui was originally part of newspaper-man Thomas List’s garden, and his house still stands on the ridge above us. He planted this tree, and with colours like this it’s really a bit difficult to understand why hickories are relatively rare in New Zealand. It’s one of the few trees that produce good autumn colour in our mild Taranaki climate.”
Alongside the drive at Brooklands, George indicates a sprawling bush, unexceptional even with its dark-green, shining leaves and white briar-like flowers. It is seldom given more than a glance by passers-by, but this plant and its many varieties was one of the foundations of British India, and remains an integral part of social interaction between people from China to Australia. Camellia sinensis—teais better-known in its packeted “broken orange pekoe” form or, at very least, as a closely-plucked hillside crop. The natural shape of the bush provides a talking point for some time, and not a few leaves are picked, crushed and smelled.
The evening air is turning chill as we return to the car park, and Fuller sums up his experience of Pukekura for me: “I consider it an incredible privilege to have been in charge of this place. There is an awesome balance to be maintained here, and that demands constant commitment and energy. It won’t, and can’t, look after itself like an ordinary piece of forest.”
All things being equal, it takes me an hour and a bit to traverse the park on my escapes. That, of course, depends entirely upon the things seen or the people met, the distractions encountered or the routes explored. Pukekura is a living, breathing entity, a park with a personality and with an ambience that is truly unique. It is a reassuring Kiwi amalgam of the realms of Tane Mahuta and The Green Man. The intimacy of its surroundings and, perhaps more importantly, the culmination of 130 years of individual, and often eccentric, effort have produced a combination that rejoices in its provincialism and delights with its individuality.
The gorse-choked gully has become the city’s pride.