Our last big tree planting effort

Since 2008, every winter at Project Rameka, we’ve been calling in the troops to plant out large swathes of abandoned paddock in native trees. Fifteen years down the track, we find ourselves running out of large areas.

In the last audit by Jonathan and Matt, it was hard to find areas large enough for a big group to spend time planting – they did, but only just. So, barring drought, fire or slip, 2023 marked the final year of mass plantings at the Rameka Carbon Forest! This is good news; it’s fantastic! It means our trees have taken hold; they’ve taken up the challenge, and many no longer need our help.

In future, we’ll be focusing on ’boutique’ planting of some of the more delicate, slow-growing climax species, such as rimu and matai, under the shelter of the workhorse species that are doing so well.

Bronnie standing in front of 2m tall totara planted in 2008/09
Bronnie standing next to some totara that were planted in 2008/09

So, the last week of August 2023, marked one final Herculean planting effort, with over one thousand trees being put in the ground. Thanks to everyone who grabbed a spade and gave the native seedlings a new home.

Some of the sites were challenging, as the first photo taken from a drone by Phil Castle shows. The rest of the photos are by Corrine O’Connell, who joined us for the whole week and did a great job on her first ‘conservation vacation’.

Thanks to: Paul, Max, Forest, Max, Rumi, Enzo, Amaru, Sam, Erina, Brett, Helen, Chris, Phil, Corrine, Nicole, Richard, Mark, Marie, Tony, Karen, Bronnie, Jonathan, Christian, Simon, Geoff, Ann-Louise, and last but not least Matt, who prepared the planting sites.

Planting out the steep spur on the 'north face'
Drone photo by Phil Castle of the Great Expectations spur site – we planted 600 trees down this spur.
A naughty kea chomped into a bike seat as soon as our backs were turned. Photo by Corrine O’Connell.
Planters in the sun on a steep site
Hard at work on the Great Expectations spur.
Planters placing plant guards around newly planted trees.
Infill planting on the upper section of the historic track. The soil was nice and deep.
Planting on Rata Spur
Planting on Rata Spur, so named because we planted a dozen northern rata there a decade ago, and in the last few years they have shot away. Bloody rocky in places!
And now on the Poplar slip site. Fingers crossed we don’t have another slip here – third time lucky!
weka among the newly planted trees
A curious weka inspects our work, looking for an easy snack.

Thanks to Corrine O’Connell for taking so many great photos. It was so interesting to see Rameka through a different lens.

A karearea comes home to roost at Rameka

Rameka was once home to the native falcon of Aotearoa, karearea. Locals can still recall the fearsome flyers chittering as they hurtled down from the bluffs along the escarpment.

karearea landing on tree branch
Karearea 80 photograph by Kurien Yohannan

Such sightings are long gone though, with clearance of native vegetation reducing the bird’s habitat and pigs, possums, cats and mustelids decimating both chicks and adults. But at Project Rameka, we’ve just reintroduced our very own karearea – one made from stone by local sculptor Jocelynne Bacci.

Sculptor Jocelynne Bacci

The sculpture is made from local Takaka marble. She weighs a tonne … well, at least 40 kg. And of course, we hadn’t chosen the easiest site to sit her on. It was going to take some planning to get her on site without serious mishap. Nicole helped out with the dummy run …

Nicole being pushed on the sack barrow by Jonathan.
Jonathan transported Nicole to site on the sack barrow first. We figured Nicole wouldn’t break so easily if she fell off.

Once we were comfortable our method could work, it was time to load up and wheel down to site first the plinth and then the marble sculpture.

Jonathan wheels down the sack barrow with Richard holding a rope from behind to act as a break.
When it came time to carry down the plinth and finally the sculpture, we used the same technique. Jonathan wheeled, and Richard acted as a brake from behind.
A rope and a safety rope helped haul the sculpture up to its final site.
We used a rope and a safety rope to help haul the sculpture up to its final site.

Jonathan and Richard held the karearea in place while Jocelynne guided her onto her spot on the plinth.

Jonathan and Richard hold the karearea in place while Jocelynne guides her onto her spot on the plinth.
Jocelynne guides our karearea to her new home.
Jocelynne and Bronnie sit behind the installed karearea.
Jocelynne and Bronnie take a breather after safely installing the sculpture beside the historic Rameka Track.
Mountain biker riding past the karearea sculpture
Wendy was the first person to ride past the karearea sculpture.

The next time you ride or walk down the historic Rameka track, remember to keep an eye out for our lovely sculpture – we hope she’ll be calling home more karearea to join her at the Rameka Carbon Forest.

Margaret’s patchwork cottage

Some things are worth the wait …

Photo of a car and trailer being directed up a grassy driveway.
Ricky drives the pieces of Margaret’s patchwork cottage up to the site.

Imelda Margaret Cahill passed away in March 2020. A year later, we received a call from her solicitor. Margaret had left a bequest to Project Rameka.

We knew Margaret would want us to use her donation on something really useful for the project, but there were so many things that could be useful. In the end, we decided to split it three ways. The first project was to build another sleepout that volunteers could use when they came to help. This would provide more space for people to have a bit of alone time in comfort.

Andy Cole standing on site to check the measurements for the hut
Andy measuring up the site for Margaret’s patchwork cottage.

We hired local builder Andy Cole to come up with a design that could incorporate Margaret’s love for children alongside the practicalities of a building that would have to stand up to strong winds, lots of rain, and the occasional curious kea.

Andy wasn’t that keen on spending all his days driving up to the project to build the hut on site. Instead, he came up, measured up, and then proceeded to build the structure down in his own backyard, making it in a kitset form that could be transported onto site on the back of a trailer.

And in early January 2023, it was ready! Ricky, Corina, Andy and a couple of mates dismantled the structure from Andy’s backyard (Corina had the forethought to label each piece as it was being removed, thank goodness) and drove the whole thing up to Project Rameka. Jonathan, Bronnie, Murray and Frida helped carry the floor and walls up to the site and reconstruct it.

Jonathan and Ricky holding up the sides of the cottage
Jonathan and Ricky held pieces in place while Andy figured out how to rejoin them all.

Then, over the next two days, they painted it to match the fairy-tale design Andy had envisaged. We think it’s exactly the kind of thing Margaret would have loved, and now many others will be able to enjoy as well.

Margaret's patchwork cottage all finished a painted
Bronnie in front of Margaret’s patchwork cottage (the MPC).

Releasing plants in November

Over recent years a Wellington based team has enjoyed a few days each August planting trees at Project Rameka. But there is more to the success of our revegetation work than planting. Growing conditions are great at Project Rameka, but not only for our trees. Also, for the grass and weeds competing for sunlight with the young trees. So over 3 days in late November Erika, Terry, Merryn, John, Winnie, Davey and Stuart released a few thousand young trees from the weeds, letting in the light for further growth.

Searching for the seedlings amongst the weeds

It was great to see how successful our recent years of planting had been with survival rates in the high 90s percent. We enjoyed spending time at Rameka at a different time of the year; warmer but certainly not drier!

Project Rameka has some 120 traps controlling predators and giving the birdlife a chance. Paul Kilgour continues to do a great job clearing and maintaining those traps each month. Thank you, Paul!

But November/December Paul was away doing more good work in the Catlins, so we enjoyed a few hours walking the tracks and clearing the traps. Those tracks certainly took a hammering in the August rainstorm. It was great to see all the hard work that had taken place to reopen Great Expectations. This included building a new bridge and rerouting a section of track. Well done track builders!

Looking forward to our next trip to Rameka.

One tough trip

The Code Red storm made just getting to Rameka a challenge. Roads were closed, flights were cancelled, and the ground floor of the bach we had booked was flooded.

To get to Rameka, we had to walk 5 km each way, and on the first day, we saw the extent of the damage. One huge slip had taken out four bridges, closing Great Expectations and washing hundreds of trees away. Another slip had closed The Odyssey.

Huge slip across a road through poplar trees.
The most visible slip, and the one that blocked the road for us and the locals

Last Sunday, we held a work party, but it was really hard to know what to do. The damage to Great Expectations was so severe, with a new gulch having been formed, and a muddy sludge dumped along the sides. At least the historic Rameka Track was in remarkably good condition.

Six men clearing debris from a slip down a stream
The hardy group of locals trying their best to salvage a stream crossing devastated by the slip

It wasn’t until the third day that our fortunes turned and spirits began to lift. We carried 200 trees up and planted them in fine weather. On the same day, Ricky Ward managed, somehow, to drive another 800 trees up to the project via a private farm track. We were making real progress.

Four people digging holes for trees in bracken
The bracken of today will be a forest in 20 years!

We kept chipping away, planting one or two hundred trees a day. And Fulton Hogan were also busy repairing the road. Finally, on our last day (Saturday) the road was open, and just in time for our final big work party.

Twenty-two people turned up and the last 450 out of 1,000 trees were planted and guarded. A big thanks to Alison, Grant, Bob, Chris, Suzy, Mike, Andrew, Bevan, Duncan (Mountford) Glenda, Mark, Maryann, Will and Kerry.

People planting trees on a steep hillside
A sunny Saturday for planting the final 450. Hoorah!

Also a special thanks to Paul Kilgour who put heaps of effort into planting and guarding trees over the week, even staying at Rameka two nights.

And most of all, the crew who took a week off work and returned home, tired, fit and happy today: Nicola and Richard, Geoff, Justine and Duncan and Bronnie and Jonathan.

Six tree planters smiling on a track.
It was all smiles once we got cracking!

One of the observations Jonathan had at the end of the week was this. By restoring the land over time, the land has begun restoring us.

Three people standing/sitting at a lookout.
Gathering our breathes at Martin’s lookout.