Goal, progress & history

Miramar Peninsula
Miramar Peninsula seen from the air Credit

Our goal

It’s quite simple: we aim to restore ecological health to the Miramar Peninsula. 

More specifically, we’d like to see every household on the peninsula include  25 % or more of local native plants. We practises eco-sourcing to maintain the distinctiveness of local flora.

By boosting rare plant life and controlling pests we can bring nature in to our urban community, raising property values and fostering a sense of identity and well-being.

As well as getting our hands dirty we inspire, enable and support local residents like you - because together we can truly transform our peninsula.

Why Miramar?

The sea and the airport form effective barriers around the Miramar Peninsula so, once a pest is removed, reinvasion is limited. This means our peninsula could become a beautiful, safe ecological island.

The peninsula is a wildlife stopover on a natural corridor running from the Rimutaka Ranges and East Harbour Regional Park, over to Matiu/Somes Island and further west to the Botanic Gardens, Zealandia: The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and Otari-Wilton’s Bush.

Forest
Rimutaka forest park

At 900 hectares, 6.5 km long and 2.5 km wide, private residential and commercial properties occupy about 50% of the Miramar Peninsula, while roughly 17% covers protected reserves as well as recreational parks. This does not include airways land and the 78 hectare northern area sometimes known as Watts Peninsula, which covers farmland, regenerating bush and the old defence land of the New Zealand Defence Force.

Progress so far

Miramar resident Joakim Liman heads Te Motu Kairangi. He is an award-winning restoration volunteer with experience working for the Department of Conservation, Zealandia and Wellington Zoo. Currently, around 20 key volunteers and many more locals spend their free time planting, weeding and trapping as part of the project. Most volunteers are aged 20 to 50. Many are ecology students; others are simply passionate about bringing the birdsong back to their corner of New Zealand.

We give regular talks and presentations and have good relationships with local groups including Miramar Track Project, Miramar Garden Club, the Wellington branch of Forest & Bird and Kereru Discovery Project.

Working with children is of great importance to us. Two local schools currently work Te Motu Kairangi and we hope to add more in the future. During presentations to teachers and kids we discuss the peninsula's unnatural history, its flora and fauna, how these disappeared and how they can be restored. We also bring kids and teachers in to the bush to experience it first hand by feeling, seeing, hearing and smelling it. Advice for planting in school yards has also been given, including planting native species as well as building nest boxes for native birds and making suitable areas for skinks and geckos.

Nearly 7000 eco-sourced species have been planted around the peninsula in suitable locations. Many were locally extinct but are now flourishing and providing food and shelter for native wildlife.

Thanks to Greater Wellington Regional Council possums have been removed from the peninsula and pest control on the south coast has led to increasing numbers of little blue penguins.

Paradise lost: Miramar's unusual history

The Miramar Peninsula was once an island teaming with life. During the time of early Polynesian settlement it acquired the name Te Motu Kairangi, meaning “Precious Island”.

Bays and gullies supported dense groves of shrubs and trees such as miro, totara, rimu, tawa and flowering rata. Pigeonwood covered most of the ridges and supplejack filled the deeper gullies with a tangle of vegetation.

Painting, Maori boat, Miramar
Gold, Charles Emilius (Lieutenant-Colonel), 1809-1871. Gold, Charles Emilius 1809-1871 :Wellington Harbour N. Zealand [Between 1847 and 1860]. Gold, Charles Emilius 1809-1871 :Sketches by General Gold, 1846 to 1860. Ref: A-288-030. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22348464

The bush was enlivened by the call and movements of native birds: kereru, tui, bellbirds, kakariki, kaka and now-extinct species such as piopio and huia feasting on the berry-bearing trees. Flightless moa browsed in the undergrowth or on shrubs along the coastline while tuatara sunbathed in clearings and openings in the bush. The only land mammals were bats.

A few streams ran down to the sea where fish were abundant. A flax and raupo swamp with creeks and lagoons supported wetland birds. The coastline was busy with seals, penguins and nesting seabirds, while the nesting grounds of Australasian gannets covered the south coast hills.

An uprising and a lake

Around 1460 AD a massive earthquake closed the channel (Te Awa-a-Taia) which had separated the island from the mainland. Sand drift and sediments started to form low ridges, bars and dunes, converting the island to a peninsula.

After the uplift the previous horseshoe-shaped island, with its forested bays and gullies, suddenly had several low-lying flat areas. Sand drift from nearby dunes, together with water from streams, became confined until an 86 hectare lake (or freshwater lagoon) was created. The lake, known by various names over time including Te Roto Kura, Para Lake and Burnham Water, is now the Miramar shops area, with Para Street marking the eastern shore. The new lake drowned low-lying forest - large stumps and logs of kahikatea and pukatea were later discovered. Areas between ridges and dunes became water-logged swamps, thick with peat and soft vegetable matter.

Drastic changes

At the time of European arrival most of the forest and animals on the peninsula had gone. The forest had been cleared with fire to create gardens. Moa were extinct, their eggs and skeletal remains left in the swamp, dunes and Maori ovens.

By 1840 most of the peninsula was covered in thick, low vegetation of hardy ferns mixed with flax, toetoe and small scrub such as tutu, hebe, matagouri, muehlenbeckia and a few scattered trees. Patches of bush in a few gullies at the northern end of the lake remained, and those remnants were still often visited by kereru and kaka.

Most of the surrounding bush and vegetation was burned down by settlers and grazed by their cattle and sheep. Very few bush-filled gullies survived. Surface sowing with English grasses overtook the common ferns and shrubs covering the hills

Miramar cutting
Miramar, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-061459-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.  http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22789931

Around 1846 landowner James Coutts Crawford drained the lake by constructing a tunnel to Evans Bay. After the tunnel was finished, drains were cut through the flax swamps.

By 1872 there were still several forest species growing such as rewarewa, kohekohe, hinau and ramarama, though confined to a few gullies in the north. Ferns where few, no doubt most had disappeared with the bush that gave them shelter. All podocarps, such as totara, had been cut down for building purposes although there is some suggestion that a small area of bush, containing totara and rimu, grew on the Worser Bay face of Seatoun heights.

With settlers came weeds and animal pests: possums, rats, stoats, hedgehogs and cats.

The diversity of native plants on the peninsula was severely depleted. In 1928 all of the remaining sand dunes were levelled to build an airfield (now Wellington International Airport). Many streams were piped. The last of the remaining wetland disappeared from the peninsula in the 1970s.

In 2002 the Miramar Peninsula was heavily infested with possums and bereft of bird life.

What little remains

95% of pre-settlement vegetation in the Wellington region was cleared of native forest by 1900 and the bush is now mostly secondary growth. Several species of flora are now only known historically and are extinct from the area.

Kereru in Overton park eating kawakawa
Kereru in Overton park

After pest control increased, tui started breeding on the peninsula in 2004 - the first instance of tui breeding for many decades. Sadly, stoats, rats and hedgehogs are still common, and together with a population of feral cats they drastically reduce survival odds for our peninsula’s wildlife.

Several protected reserves of regenerating bush exist, with notable flora but only fragments of pre-European bush. Te Motu Kairangi volunteers plant in three of the northern reserves.

Maupuia Reserve / Centennial Park
 

Maupia reserve
Maupuia Reserve / Centennial Park

The peninsula’s largest reserve, covering 23.6 hectares, is Maupuia Reserve (sometimes known as Centennial Park). This area is mostly dominated by mahoe and five finger with an understory of kawakawa and hangehange. Several small streams flow depending on the season, only one flowing year-round. A large stand of Tasmanian blackwood is located at the bottom of the Conviction Track. This species has invasive potential, but at the moment does not seem to spread at a quick rate. Several other important native species can be found in low numbers, such as kidney fern, crown fern, kiekie, supplejack, kamahi, tree fuschia, wharangi, ramarama and one individual kohekohe. The invasive pest plant climbing asparagus is, unfortunately, very common.

Scorching Bay Reserve

Just next to Scorching Bay lies a seven hectare reserve. Steep in places and sometimes very boggy, this reserve holds the only known large stand of kohekohe, made up of several trees, two quite large. 

Scorching Bay reserve
Scorching Bay Reserve

A few tree fuchsia are present, as are some large hebe and native broom species, wharangi, akeake, swamp fern and libertia The original akeake could have been introduced to this area by early Maori. The regenerating bush is mainly made up of mahoe and five finger but large areas of the reserve consist of (non-locals) pohutukawa, karaka and karo as well as a large stand of different species of eucalypts and the pine, P radiata. The highly invasive weed banana passionfruit is also extremely common.

Overton Park
 

Overton Park
Overton Park

The smallest of the reserves, only 0.7 hectares, but very steep, Overton Park holds the largest native trees of their species on the peninsula. Dominated by non-local karaka, possibly the largest on the peninsula, and karo. Mahoe, five finger and kawakawa are the only dominant local native trees, however, the largest known titoki on the peninsula can be seen from the road below, as can the only known large hinau. Somewhat smaller trees of titoki can be found as individuals around Karaka Bay. Old man’s beard, banana passionfruit and morning glory are the dominant pest plant species, difficult to access on the steep slopes.