By Jeff Williams
Rising well above the most ambitious house, dominating and indeed defining Coromandel Town, is the mountainous spine of the Coromandel Peninsula. A swathe of ancient volcanoes nurtures nascent native forest that stretches from Moehau Mounga in the north (even from Aotea/Great Barrier, if you want to get finicky about it) all the way to Rotorua, these mountains are the subject of countless still lifes and selfies.
For those of us who live here, the mountains are also our playground. Tramping, mountain biking, trail running, exercising pets, adventure racing, exploring mines… the enjoyments are limitless. As are the fresh clear drinking water and the unfettered views. You can see Auckland from the ridgeline if you want to, or you can turn the other way and see beyond the Mercury Islands, beyond Cuvier Island, and well into the Pacific Ocean, perhaps not quite to Chile.
Thanks to DOC and to private interests, there are well maintained tracks running from Coromandel Town’s Main Street (all of 110 metres long) up to the ridge, and all along the ridge from the roads north and south of the town. And from almost a decade of dedication from conservation volunteers, there are over 20 kilometres of tracks used for stoat and rat trapping.
This year, for the first time in over 40 years, kiwi were heard along the Whakanekeneke catchment above the town. Kiwi poo has been found numerous times in the past couple of years along the ridge as well. It’s clear that the security provided by the unbroken stretch of regenerating mountainous bush is providing a haven for native birds as they explore new territories south from the DOC Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary.
And it’s not just kiwi living here. Old mine adits are filled with wētā and even house the occasional endangered Hochstetter’s frog. Tūī, korimako, and kererū are commonly seen and heard. Tomtits are becoming more frequent, suggesting that predator control efforts are having a positive impact. Species protection and recovery. Provision of recreation opportunities. Appreciation of historical heritage. It sounds like – and is – the very essence of conservation land management.
But the future is less clear
While the forest seems contiguous, underneath it’s a patchwork of land tenure, the result of a complicated history of resource exploitation – the boom and bust of both logging and mining that, in the last two centuries, brought cycles of both wealth and environmental destruction to the Coromandel. Little of the forested area immediately above the town is public land. The Success Track from town to ridge, for example, is all located on land privately owned by a mining company.
And the iconic ridgeline? It’s stewardship land. In fact, for ten kilometres north and ten kilometres south of Coromandel Town the Whangapoua Forest Conservation Area is all stewardship land. DOC manages stewardship areas to protect their natural and historic values, but only until the ultimate destiny of these lands is determined. What we’re left with is a literal limbo land. FMC has been calling for this forest to become part of the Coromandel Forest Park, a specially protected area, and with continued threats, such as the proposed private road currently being opposed, this can’t come soon enough.
Jeff & Raine Williams are FMC Individual Supporters who love the New Zealand outdoors and its endemic inhabitants. They contribute their time to local and national predator-trapping efforts.
Coromandel forests must be respected
By Jamie Steward, FMC Executive
FMC has a vision for the forested spine of the Coromandel Peninsula – including the remnant green fingers that reach for the sea – that it becomes every bit as respected for its intrinsic values, and cherished for recreation, as other North Island mountain ranges such as the Kaimai, Ruahine and Tararua.
The Coromandel forests have a sorry history. Kauri logging – on a vast scale – and mining have left their mark on the landscape, and also a patchwork of land tenure, subsequently exploited by exotic forestry and a culture which continues to see the forest as a resource rather than a treasure.
FMC is calling for all stewardship areas on the peninsula to become part of the specially protected Coromandel Forest Park. This would provide a secure ‘skeleton’ park which can be added to over time to gradually restore ecological and recreational connectivity through the landscape. At a bare minimum the continued fragmentation of the forests must stop.
FMC and other submitters were finally successful recently, in opposing a proposed private road to be created through Coromandel Forest Park north of Whitianga near Waitaia Bay. The road was proposed simply to make extraction of an exotic forestry block more economical compared to other options.
A hard won battle, now stands to be replicated. Further investigations, following a report from our membership, revealed a non-notified concession variation application for a similar private road through Whangapoua Forest Conservation Area on the other side of the peninsula.
Public conservation land does not exist to be a default access way for neighbouring commercial interests, should their own legal right of ways or access through neighbouring private land prove more expensive. FMC will continue to push for the natural values of the forest to come first.
This article is excerpted from the November 2019 edition of Backcountry Magazine titled “Forgotten Lands.” For more information or to subscribe to Backcountry, please visit https://www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountry/.