Five intriguing walks that explore unique wetland ecosystems.
Wetlands serve a vitally important role as natural ecosystems. They harbour a rich diversity of native plants and animals, filter water and act as sponges which can buffer flooding.
Māori valued wetlands as hunting grounds, and as a source of fibre from the ever-versatile flax.
However, ‘swamps’ (the derogatory name for a wetland) proved difficult to travel through and near useless for grazing livestock, so it’s no surprise that early Pākehā settlers sought to drain them. Their efforts were so effective that by the end of the 20th century, less than 10 per cent of New Zealand’s original wetlands remain. Most of these exist in South Westland, the wetland capital of the country.
Here are five particularly attractive ones to visit.
1- Bog Inn, Pureora Forest Park
A small but curious wetland, known as Ongarue Swamp, makes a break in the otherwise extensive forest of Pureora Forest Park and can be reached on the two-day Timber Trail. Bog, of course, is another name for wetland, and the nearby four-bunk hut, made of totara, was originally built in 1960 for scientists studying the surrounding forest.
2- Arohaki Lagoon, Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Conservation Park
In my opinion, Arohaki (formerly Arahaki) Lagoon is one of the most magnificent wetlands in the entire country, even surpassing many of those in South Westland. While in dry spells the lagoon recedes to reveal reeds, during wet periods the waters swell and reflect the wall of kahikatea trees surrounding it.
It’s reached on a good track, taking about 90min each way. A viewing platform projects into the edge of the lagoon, offering an ideal place for lunch and photography.
3- Ahukawakawa Wetland, Egmont National Park
The Pouakai Circuit has attracted increasing numbers of trampers over the last decade, due in no small part to the diversity of landforms – this subalpine wetland among them. Between Holly and Pouakai Huts, trampers cross the Ahukawakawa Wetland, formed when the Stony Stream was blocked by a landslide. Boardwalks cross the squelchy ground, between sizable red tussock, with grand views of Taranaki Mounga on a good day.
4- Ashburton Lakes, Hakatere Conservation Park
Wetlands feature in many parts of the Canterbury high country, perhaps nowhere as extensively as at the Ashburton Lakes – a series of 12 lakes in the upper Rangitata River. Contrasting markedly with the forest-surrounded ones of Westland, these lakes are open, and instead fringed by tussocks and turfs. A good introduction to the area is to walk or mountain-bike around Lake Clearwater. The Te Araroa Trail passes nearby.
5- Ship Creek, Haast
This small stream flows through the dune wetlands 20km north of Haast, before it spills into the Tasman Sea. An excellent short loop track leads through the kahikatea swamp forest, while another explores the coast and the nearby dune lakes. Allow about an hour to complete both.