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History of local iwi at the forefront of $1m upgrade in Riccarton's native forest

Jordan Dunn
20220510 125742 min
Deans Cottage at Riccarton Bush - the oldest building in the Canterbury Plains. To the left is the proposed area for the waharoa.  Jordan Dunn

A proposal, being presented by the Riccarton Bush Trust, would turn one of the country’s largest urban forests into an educational hub and tell the stories of early settlers and Ngāi Tūāhuriri.

The plan would see a wahaora, or traditional māori welcoming area, installed at the entrance of Pūtaringamotu. 

The entrance would be next to Dean's cottage, the oldest building on the Canterbury plains, built for the Scottish pioneering brothers William and John Deans, in 1843. 

The Deans brothers were the first European settlers of the area and rented the land from Ngāi Tūāhuriri.

Trust Board member and manawhenua, Nigel Harris, said the relationship between the settlers and the iwi is an important time in history. 

"It’s a really cool interaction to be celebrated and my feelings are that because it’s such a significant piece of ngahere [forest], it’s like the jewel in the crown for Canterbury."

The Riccarton Bush trust have maintained and managed the forest since it was appointed to them by the government in 1941. 

The Trust are working alongside Ngāi Tahu's consultancy agency, Matapopore, to deliver the upgrade effectively. 

"The enhancement processes that they’re looking at doing is only just going to assist the wider community in educational input," said Harris. 

Harris said Pūtaringamotu/Riccarton Bush is an important part of restoring the cultural disconnect between nature, and people living in urban areas.  

Riccarton Bush Entrance
The proposed site for the waharoa, at the entrance of the Riccarton Bush Walk Jordan Dunn

Biologist and Trust Board member, David Norton, said it had always been a goal of theirs to tell the story of the forest from a manawhenua perspective. 

"Coming onto the Trust Board, the thing that really struck me is that we had no representation from Ngāi Tūāhuriri or of manawhenua at all." 

He felt having Matapopore and Nigel Harris involved was finally making this goal a reality.

Norton says the group, in previous years, focused on restoring the forest from degradation, but now they are restoring its cultural significance. 

"We didn't need any more management work in the bush beyond what we were doing, but what we weren't doing very well, I felt, was telling the stories about the bush."

He said beyond this, the bush was in desperate need of some restoration. 

“Our current walkway was starting to rot, the concrete was a danger for people in wheelchairs or pushing prams so I said ‘let’s do a project that upgrades the walkways and allows us to tell some stories.’” 

Riccarton Bush Track
Some parts of the Riccarton Bush track are rotting and still unsuitable for wheelchairs Jordan Dunn

The group is expecting the $1m will pay for the waharoa, the restoration of the walkways and new benches along with an educational area for plays, poetry and lectures.

It will be the first major work done since the pest-free fence was installed in 2004.  

Christchurch Foundation are helping fundraise for the project. 

The project is still in the planning stages and the Trust are waiting for more funds to explore the idea further. 

Through fundraising with the Christchurch foundation, they have raised $165,000 towards their $1m goal. 

If you want to contribute or learn more click here.

"There’s this disconnect between the natural environment and urban māori, slowly over time we’d like to fill that gap...and Riccarton Bush is a very important part of that vision."
Nigel Harris