Pukenui Forest/ Ngahere o Pukenui sits on a basement of greywacke rock. Greywacke is a hard, grey sandstone that was compressed deep in the ocean and has risen, leviathan-like, to be the sure foundation of this very important forest. Important, because it is the last surviving remnant of a vast and ancient landscape that was once filled with life, an endemic hot-spot on Planet Earth. What living life-forms are left, cling precariously, like a neonate baby bat, to its mother’s fur.
This last piece of living bush has seen the impact of human activity over many centuries, both in its exploitation and the arrival of mammalian predators. It is the impact of these two shocks that has left the forest bereft of its once rich wildlife. Pukenui Forest is the largest remaining area of bush in the Whangarei Ecological District and is described by the Department of Conservation as “having a high diversity of vegetation types (32), including some unmodified areas which support a number of threatened species”.
Huge, old-growth kahikatea, taraire and totara sit in alluvial terraces that are still home to long-tailed bats and, during the fruiting season once fed thousands and thousands of native pigeons, kaka and tui. Giant kauri trees, now long-gone, along with thousand year old rimu, puriri and rata demanded the respect they never got. Other plants of significance are several species of fern, rare hard beech, kawaka and the beautiful flowering carmine rata, beloved of tui and our native lizards that help in the pollination process.
Pukenui Forest in the early days of the Pukenui Trust could be described as an empty cathedral… tall, pillared, elegant with a spiritual quality, but essentially silent and without life. Gone, sometimes quite recently, are the birds that once frequented their ancient home. Kiwi, of course, down to a handful, robins, bittern in the surrounding wetlands, long-finned eel hanging in there and all three parrots now departed, including kaka and the rare, yellow-crowned kakariki. In season our native pigeons darkened the sky above the forest, but severely reduced in number.
We probably have our unique long-tailed bat to thank for the fact that a new energy has been directed to Ngahere o Pukenui. Following a suggestion of flooding part of the forest for a dam, an ecological report commissioned by the Department of Conservation revealed the presence of important plant and animal communities, especially long-tailed bats. This put a halt to any flooding of the forest and generated a desire by many in the community to not only protect these taonga, but to bring the forest back to its former glory.
by Gerry Brackenbury (early forest ranger)
Map of the forest area
Pukenui Western Hills Forest includes the following areas:
Coronation Scenic Reserve
Owned and managed by Whangarei District Council (WDC), this area is classified as a Scenic Reserve under the Reserves Act 1977, which requires it to be managed for the protection and preservation of its natural and scenic value for the benefit, enjoyment and use of the public.
Whau Valley Water Catchment
Also owned and managed by WDC, this area supplies most of the water for the city of Whangarei.
The Pukenui Forest is administered by DOC and classified as a Conservation Park under the Conservation Act 1987. Areas designated as such are managed to protect their natural and historic resources and to facilitate public enjoyment.
Owned by WDC and leased to the Whangarei Agricultural and Pastoral Society for 21 years, the lease commenced on 1 July 2002.