Morning Story: Let our natives stand tall and proud


In Auckland a few months back I made many, but primarily two, observations about its CBD.

Firstly, in contrast with Wellington, it has an ugly skyline.

Skyscraper numbers and density are similar, but that's where the comparison ends.

Wellington's high-rises are, for the most part, an attractive mix of aged and contemporary.

Bar a few exceptions, notably the Sky Tower, Auckland's look like they were built 30 years ago. As a tourist I came away with the impression authorities had vetoed any structure higher than five storeys since 1980.

Either way, it's neglected its vertical aesthetic. When in Auckland, don't look up.

The second observation from my sojourn was more positive, in the form of its horizontal streetscape.

It's superb. There's obviously been a decision by local authorities to showcase our endemic flora. And what a showcase.

Queen St's lined with breathtaking nikau. It's an inspired move; our only native palm - and the world's southernmost - flanks the busiest street of the country's most populous city. If it weren't our most populous city I'd be tempted to hug one of them.

After flying back into Hawke's Bay Airport I drove off with a sigh at the contrast courtesy the foreign palms that line the entrance. Someone decided it'd be best to welcome overseas tourists with an exotic powhiri.

What outrageous misfortune.

It's a drum I've beaten many a time. Admittedly it's a personal cause celebre. But that's what I don't understand. Native trees speak volumes about who we are as Kiwis. How we repeatedly manage to ignore this part of our makeup, continues to baffle me.

The City of Sails CBD boasts not only nikau. It also has frequent stands of cabbage trees and wonderful mini-forests of kauri. This successfully mitigates the all-consuming bling and bustle of commerce. It keeps Auckland's ego in check.

Hawke's Bay on the other hand underscores its denuded native landscape with flora from, quite possibly, the land of the visitor.

But never mind. We have one tree of national significance. One which I visited for the second time on Saturday with my daughters.

I'd like to think it's Hawke's Bay's Tane Mahuta.

It's in many ways incomparable with this great kauri (a Ngapuhi friend scoffed when I made the comparison months back), but regardless, I think we need a talismanic piece of timber to change attitudes. And what better than this beautiful totara.

About 600 years old, it's nestled in A'Deanes Bush near Ongaonga, off Makaretu Rd, SH 50.

I first glimpsed it on a family hike about a year ago. Its reddish bark the colour of an Irish setter's coat. While the upper-canopy looks healthy, it's scarred and full of cavities in its lower trunk, some filled with water. Despite the near-drought conditions of Hawke's Bay, it amazes me how the bush is able to hold its water like this.

A DoC sign near the tree describes it "A Survivor". You'd be forgiven for thinking there was a native tree plague in Hawke's Bay once upon a time.

But Doc is right. It's a survivor on many levels. Its 8.8m girth and 33m height mercifully endured the Maori fires and pioneers' axes. The latter no small miracle when you consider the milling heritage of Tikokino and Ongaonga.

It's well worth the journey to check on this grand old lady.

Shame though that here you need a map to find what Auckland has in droves on its main street.

Mark Story is assistant editor at Hawke's Bay Today.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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