Tribute to Martin Langley, 1954–2019

Martin at Makara Peak, Wellington, 2012

By Jonathan Kennett

Late on a dark and drizzly night, just shy of the mid-winter solstice 1999, Bronnie and I drove over Takaka Hill in search of mountain bike tracks to include in Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides. As we cruised through a deserted Takaka township, we spied a small bike shop to our left. “How on Earth does a bike shop survive in a small town like this?” we wondered.

The following day dawned beautifully fine, and so we headed straight back to the shop, hoping that the owner might point us to the best rides in the bay. The shop was ancient and simple, but it included guitars (a big tick from me), a huge topographical map of Golden Bay on one wall, and behind the counter, Martin Langley, with his beanie pulled down over his ears, a grease-covered apron covering a thick jumper, and the most welcoming smile.

Not only did Martin point us to all the local tracks (only a handful back then), he also took us for a ride up the Old Mill Road that afternoon and invited us to stay the night with him and his wife Marie. Finding common ground with Martin was effortless, and so began a long friendship.

On the Wakamarina, 2011

Fast forward to 2007. Martin knew that Bronnie and I were looking for land to turn into a forest carbon sink. He understood why we wanted to do it and didn’t think we were crazy at all.

We had no real idea of where to buy land and were looking at blocks from Dunedin (cheap but a long way away) to Kapiti (close but expensive). Then, one morning, the office fax machine buzzed to life and stuttered out a real estate advert for land in the Rameka valley. It was an anonymous fax, but the number matched to The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop.

I called Martin straight away and arranged to head over and take a look, on his birthday as it happened. Martin, Marie, Bronnie and I piled into their old blue van and drove up the valley. That day, we actually looked at two properties for sale up the Rameka. One was much further up and a bit cheaper. However, the lower one suited better for several reasons. The forest was younger (so it would absorb a lot more carbon dioxide), people cycling the classic Rameka Track passed right through it, and Martin loved the Rameka Track and could see the potential. It made a huge difference to us knowing that Martin was behind our plan because Martin was a doer. He had already been a pivotal influence for mountain biking in Golden Bay, including organising events, building tracks at Parapara and instigating the track building at Canaan Downs.

Riding the newly-opened Pack Track with Reese and Andy, November 2011

With such valuable support to reassure us, Bronnie and I began negotiations with the real estate agent. Settlement day was 29 April 2008. Before then, Martin and I returned to Rameka a couple of times, to scope it out. Dreaming up the possibilities for 48 hectares of land with Martin was very exciting!

When Project Rameka was formed on 1 May 2008, down at the Wholemeal Café, Martin was a founding member for the incorporated society committee, and stayed on it for good. The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop became Project Rameka HQ, with Martin and Marie spending a lot of time promoting the project. The shop was where people could find out about the tracks and work parties and make a donation after their ride. Tools often got sharpened on the shop’s angle grinder, which made a helluva racket. And countless people hired bikes from the shop to go riding through the project.

Martin and Marie taking a coffee break at The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop, Takaka, 2016

When we discovered from the previous landowner that the historic Rameka Track ran through the property (hidden under scrub), Martin started organising regular Thursday work parties, and attracted a band of local diggers who helped him reopen the track to the pines. Then he turned his attentions to Great Expectations. But perhaps his crowning glory was reopening the 4 kilometres of historic Rameka Track down the Takaka escarpment, with the final few metres being cleared in mid-2017. That was a truly epic mission as much of the scrub was a near impenetrable tangle of gorse, barberry and bush lawyer. Martin and his crew (mostly Matt, Andy, John and Hernan) had to crawl and battle their way through, all the time making sure to stay on the historic bench. But it was worth it, and Martin loved hearing that people were enjoying riding the track.

Hernan, Andy, Martin and John on a historic Rameka track-clearing expedition
Work on reopening the historic track breaks through to the Takaka escarpment and some breathtaking views over Golden Bay, July 2017

Martin recognised that humans are trashing the planet. But rather than dwell on the negative, he would help by joining the tree planting work parties and transporting trees up the valley. For this purpose, he sometimes used one of his most prized possessions, the Ugly Trailer. I’m amazed it ever got a WoF – it should have failed on looks alone, it really was that ugly. But what a bargain: as Martin fondly recalled, “they practically gave it away!”

Recommissioning give-aways was par for the course for Martin and his mates at Rameka, and their ingenuity in finding and repurposing discarded stuff from all corners of the bay never ceased to amaze us. The Thursday work parties often ended with lengthy sessions up at The Lorax Lair, where the team pottered away on one project or another. They usually involved a barbeque and beers and extended far into the small hours of a morning. A bathtub, complete with chimney, appeared early on – a hint for smelly volunteers perhaps?

The bath was installed within a week and still satisfies many an aching limb.

Then a funky fireplace incorporating farm machinery and bike parts grew up. However, Martin’s most inspiring creation would have to be the water wheel: long may it spin. If Martin could re-use anything creatively, then he would. It was the same with repairing bikes. If anyone could keep a bike going, it was Martin. He saved many a steed from a premature trip to the tip.

Waterwheel installation; bamboo, rubber, plastic, stainless steel, caste iron; Martin Langley, 2010
With his favourite digging tool, Rameka forest, May 2009

Although he was perfectly happy to stand up in front of a crowd and play guitar, when it came to work parties, Martin often preferred to disappear with a small group. If we organised a really big work party on the project, with 20 or more people, he might hardly be seen. I think only Marie truly knows how many work parties he joined – certainly more than anyone else over the first 10 years of Project Rameka.

Those who knew Martin understand how lucky they were to share time with him, but many more who never met him have benefited from Martin’s generosity as they ride or run tracks that he built, past trees he planted, down to a shop he founded more than 20 years ago.

Ride on Martin.

Martin surveying the wild West Coast that he loved – Heaphy 2011

Rameka Turns Ten

Yup, it’s been 10 years – a decade since Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States, promising an environmental programme of alternative-energy for that world super power; a decade since the polar bear was added to the list of ‘threatened’ species, becoming the first animal to do so due to the effects of global warming; a decade since we formed the Rameka carbon forest.

A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) jumps in the fast ice, north Spitsbergen Island, Norway. Credit: Arturo de Frias Marques

What a fitting time to celebrate with a little spruce-up for the project! Last year, Corina Ward suggested we provide visitors to the area with information on the history of Rameka and background to the project. It was a fantastic idea, and we leapt on it. Interpretation panels would give those visitors an opportunity to understand more about the area they were travelling through. And researching the information to go on those panels gave us a greater appreciation for this well-loved area.

Many thanks for their help in gathering information and photos go to: Cliff Turley, author of Rocks and Hard Places: The Takaka Hill; long-time Golden Bay resident Skeet Barnett; fourth-generation local farmer Dave Edmondson; the Golden Bay museum; interns Alex Delhagen and Orion Dick-Neal (who did the initial research); Paul Kennett (creator of the maps) Jonathan Kennett (for pulling the whole thing together and writing the narrative) and the many, many others who provided valuable feedback on multiple drafts.

Come November this year, new interpretation boards were ready and waiting to go in at each entrance, and some new volunteers were keen to come across from the North Island to help put them in place.

From left: Robbie Fyfe, Dhara Knight, Penny Kennett and Bronnie Wall settle in at the Lorax Lair.

Richard Green, his son Yoshi and friend Charlie Bowker had already prepared some really smart boards to go up at each of the hubs around the project – and had even dug the holes and installed the first one at the top site!

Richard and Yoshi get ready to add the interpretation information at the top board.

The other boards went up at: The Forks:

Richard, Yoshi, Penny and Jonathan Kennett can be thanked for getting this board in the right place at the Forks.

the mill site:

Richard, Yoshi and Jonathan make quick work of the interpretation board added at the Mill Site.

and the bottom of the historic Rameka track:

Dhara Knight keeps an eye on some suspicious-looking characters at the bottom interpretation board … or maybe they’re keeping an eye or six on her!

Each board comprises six panels. The top three are the same for all four boards and include a map, details about the surrounding tracks and information on the Rameka supporters. The three bottom panels are different on each board, providing details that range from the history of sheep farming and timber milling in the area to as much as we could find out about the original track formation in the late 1800s, old maps of the area and a timeline dating back to the 1860s.

So, next time you head through the project, give yourself time to pause and have a gander at the interpretation boards. I suspect you’ll be impressed.

In 2018, many of Barack Obama’s initiatives have been rescinded and the fate of the polar bear continues to teeter as the effects of climate change march on, but here at the Rameka Carbon Forest, thousands of trees have been planted, three primo tracks have been opened, the bird and native plant life is flourishing, and good things are on the up and up.

Golden Bay from the historic Rameka track – a view to inspire the soul

Nicole Benkert reflects on the August tree planting

On Wednesday, 29 August 2018, I went back to work after a long weekend planting trees in Golden Bay as part of project Rameka. In my head, I could still feel the earth between my fingers.

Nicole, Jonathan, Sonja, Bronnie, Kate and Perrine take a well-earned lunch break during the Saturday planting session.

Turns out planting trees with a group of caring, like-minded people doesn’t really feel like work at all. The weather – glorious as it often is in Golden Bay (at least in summer) – helped of course. We planted over 300 trees and still had plenty of spare time to have a look around, play games and share food over long conversations.

The views from the historic Rameka track are to die for …

This was the first time I met Jonathan and Bronwen, the creators of Project Rameka.

Jonathan carries a miro and a rimu to their new homes.
Bronnie pretends to be digging diligently.
Archie, Amy and Ruby take a well-deserved break from the planting to contemplate their efforts.

Over the weekend, I learnt how it all started and came away inspired and in awe. Setting up and running a project like this takes courage, persistence and commitment, and Jonathan and Bronnie do it with a spirit of care, humbleness and community-mindedness. I met two locals involved with the project, Matt and Paul, both of who were knowledgeable and committed to the project – I’m glad I met them.

Matt Shoult shows the team around the project.
Paul Kilgour and Andy Cole discuss the finer points of planting at Rameka during their lunch break on the Sunday planting.

I also gained at least two important insights into tree-planting:

1. Planting makomako (wineberry) creates a canopy and shelter that permits other trees, such as rimu, to grow up underneath

2. The forest will regenerate itself when weeds and pests are kept under control (easy as, I say – thanks, Matt!).

Matt stands next to a rare Melicytus obovatus species that he discovered on the project – a very exciting find!

I hope to be back next year 🙂

Nicole Benkert gets her hands into the earth at Rameka.

Nicole

Another 490 plants in the ground at the Rameka Carbon Forest this August

A jubilant planting group at Rameka in August.
The euphoria of a good planting session finally gets to … some, but not all … the planters at August’s planting session. From left to right: Andrew McLellan, Geoff Plimmer, Ricky Ward, Bronnie Wall, Paul Kilgour, Kate Potter, Ann-Louise Metcalfe, Karyn Burgess, Marie Langley and Martin Langley.

200 flaxes, 200 pittos, 40 rata, 25 griselinia, 25 others were planted in August at a well-attended working bee where locals and people travelling from outside the bay were joined by Robyn, Tom and Martin from QE II Trust.

Andrew McLellan installs the first QEII covenant sign at the top of the project, while QEII rep Tom Stein looks on.

Together we put up our new QEII covenant signs and walked the recently cleared historic track.

Simon Johnson and Paul Kilgour study the breathtaking view from the Historic Rameka Pack Track.

The views from the track are just fabulous, and it was agreed that the locals who cleared the top half are legends!!!  Looking forward to the next working bee at the project on 18/19 November where the aim is make progress on  preparing the track to reach Grade 3 standard.

Protecting the Land for Good

When we raised funds in order to purchase the additional land at Project Rameka, we said to our generous supporters that we would protect that land.

18 months later, the Rameka Forest Restoration Charitable Trust has honoured that commitment by putting 91 ha of Project Rameka under a QEII National Trust Open Space Covenant.

Liz, Bronnie and Jonathan discuss QEII covenant options with rep Tom Stein at the base of the Rameka carbon forest.

A QEII Open Space Covenant protects the land in perpetuity and ensures its current, and future, owners manage the land in a way that protects its natural values.

Negotiating the covenant with the QEII National Trust involved recognising the uniqueness of Project Rameka being a carbon forest that provides riding, running and walking opportunities for the public.

So we and any future owners of the land are required to manage the land by:

  • protecting and enhancing the native flora and fauna
  • enhancing the land as a source of carbon dioxide sequestration
  • allowing non-motorised recreational activity.

Does this mean anything changes in how we currently manage the land? Not hugely, since so much of what we do is already aligned with the covenant’s purpose. But some things might take a little longer to achieve. For example, if we want to build any new tracks or plant exotic trees, we have to first work with the good folks at the QEII National Trust to decide how that would fit with the covenant aims.

But that is a small price to protect the land for good.