Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reading the landscape #1

I've often wondered just how much of Lyttelton Harbour was covered in bush, pre-settlement. It's relatively easy to visualise the bush cover in Akaroa harbour or in the eastern peninsula bays. There are still the dead trunks of a ghost forest to remind us. But Lyttelton, with its rock-hard clay pans? Was there scrubby bush to the water? Larger, more luxuriant cover in the damp gullies? What did it look like? sound like, smell like? Is the planting of Otamahua/Quail Island a planting or a re-planting? I would like to know what a landscape we regard as 'iconic' looked like before human presence.


  1. I have often wondered the same about Central Otago, particularly when people talk about its pristine or wild landscape. Surely it was one of the most transformed parts of Te Wai Pounamu, prior to Pakeha arrival?

  2. I have recently found myself bemoaning the loss of the Canterbury 'sheep' landscape. Because (I heard myself say) sheep 'belong' in Canterbury. Rubbish. But we elevate and iconise (?) the familiar. And I do miss the sheep and resent the artificial green diary giants!

  3. Sally Tripp in GB put out a "vegetation map" of the harbour with what she thought was originally there. It's interesting, but I think a little over-forested.
    The first Europeans found there was something of a divide, running through Port Levy and across- with less dense, more scattered bush on the Lyttelton/Te Whaka Raupo side; denser podocarps to the east.
    This does seem to match a minor local variation in rainfall: the Akaroa side is wetter.
    But it could have been exagerated by large-scale pre-European burn-off.
    The vegetation map puts our place in podocarp/totara forest. But I have searched in vain for any remnants. Totara roots don't rot away quickly. Even after two hundred years, I think some would remain, and I've found nothing.
    I suspect it was a scrubby harbour- with micro-climates dotted about, denser bush in gullies, and some major pockets of podocarps nestled in valleys, and spilling out here and there.
    The headlands are drier- not just Godley and Adderley heads, but the peninsulas extending towards Quail island get drier as you walk out. Quail Island is drier again, and I think would have been relatively sparsely treed: kanuka (a margin-dweller) and some broadwoods, but not dense.
    This is speculation, of course. (I have thought about it a lot, because we've planted a lot of trees, including many natives. When you're out there with a spade, wondering about the future of your little tree-lings, you tend to ponder such things ;)

  4. This is really helpful and pretty much aligns with my thinking. I know Quail Is is in a rain-shadow so have wondered about the long-term viability of the plantings there (which I support and have contributed to). Even on my section I have noticed that the clay gets more and more pan-like the closer you get to the cliff-edge/sea.

    Have just discovered your web spaces Rob, so will do some reading!

  5. Eek! I don't put stuff up thinking it'll be read- more bunging stuff in the attic for storage. A dumb approach, I know.
    It's been good to find a local voice, though ;)