History of Wattle Track

Author: Ray and Barbara WalterSourced from Dawn Chorus 70, August 2007

There seems to be varying commentary on the history of Wattle Valley. Here is the account of this famous walkway.

Wattle Valley formed part of the Lighthouse Keepers cow paddock and was fenced off from the main farming block until the 1970’s. It was not grazed from approx. the 1950’s and so it naturally regenerated in mostly, mānuka, tī kōuka/cabbage tree and Harakeke/flax. Big Wattle Valley was mostly tī kōuka and Wattles.

The wattles are from a Lighthouse Keepers gardens shelter belt. The 1940 aerial photograph shows 6-8 wattles and 2 fig trees at the bottom of the valley. From these few wattles, Big Wattle Valley was soon populated with further wattles. When the planting programme began they were left as they gave a rich source of nectar for korimako/ bellbirds and tūī. This was one of the major sites for students studying korimako.

As the bush has regenerated the wattles, being light-loving plants, have reduced and also the Australian Quail scratched the germinating seedlings.

Left image: from the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi archives, 1940 aerialMiddle image: 2018 aerial, credit Miriam GodfreyRight image: map of Tiritiri Matangi Island

Some plantings were made in Big Wattle Valley to increase the plant diversity which consisted of a small number of karaka, puriri, kawakawa, broom, pittosporum umbellatum, rhabdothamus and kōwhai. In the swampy area a few nīkau and kahikatea were planted at the seaward end of the valley. Two specimens of elingamita johnsonii were also planted.

The ridge between Big Wattle and Little Wattle which was covered in large stands of Japanese honeysuckle, once the honeysuckle was reduced it was planted with puriri and rewarewa. The seaward end of the ridge was the largest last planting in the ten year plan on the Island in 1994 and consisted of kara, mānuka, puahou/ five finger and kōwhai. Total number of plants in both valleys was no more than 400.

In the Little Wattle Valley only a few trees were planted consisting of puriri, rewarewa, pigeon wood and in the valley bottom kahikatea. The lower seaward end of the valley was not planted because it contained one of the last remnants of the native buttercup.

When tīeke/saddleback were first released in 1984 these valleys soon contained the densest population of tīeke. When Phil Cassey did his research on tīeke density he colour banded over one hundred birds. The original female in Big Wattle from Cuvier Island lived to the age of 21 years having had 3 mates! As the planted bush established, birds from this area moved into these new areas.

Ray and Barbara Walter
Former lighthouse keeper, Ray Walter, is somewhat of a unicorn. Having spent 30 years in the lighthouse service, he made the switch to managing the nursery. In 1980 Ray became the first ranger on the island. With his wife Barbara, they recruited hordes of people to create tracks and re-forest Tiritiri Matangi. Since then, Ray and Barbara have spearheaded the project.

Once the island was forested, Barbara helped to turn the tree planters into a group of dedicated guides. The creation of the sanctuary and the dedicated troupe of guides who tell its story has created a legacy which will surely last as long as the island itself. Ray and Barbara retired from DOC in July 2006 although they are often seen on the Island volunteering.

Left image: Lighthouse from Little Wattle Valley pre-1971Right image: Lighthouse from Little Wattle Valley 2010Photo credit: Neil Davies

Left image: View from the lighthouse 1984Right image: View from the lighthouse 2011Photo credit: Neil Davies

Left image: Korimako in Wattle, photo credit Martin SandersRight image: Hihi feeding in Wattle, photo credit Jonathan Mower

Left image: Tūī in RewarewaRight image: Kōkako in a puriri treePhoto credit: Martin Sanders