Waiheke: A walk on the wild side

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright goes bush with medical herbalist Helen Elscot to preview the Waiheke Walking Festival.

Get set for the Waiheke Walking Festival. Photo / The Aucklander
Get set for the Waiheke Walking Festival. Photo / The Aucklander

I'm all for stopping to smell the roses, but stopping to smell the weeds is something new, especially finding out the weeds can be used to soothe family health problems.

Our Wild Weed Walk guide, Helen Elscot, meets us off the Waiheke ferry at the wharf and we walk towards the right, around Matiatia Bay. I hadn't realised the beachfront was a sacred burial site and we pay our respects before entering the bush at Atawhai Whenua Reserve.

It's a fitting place to start, because there's always an element of respect in wildcrafting, the term used to describe harvesting plants from the wild. Helen teaches us about saying "thank you" to a plant when something is picked from it, and never to take more than we need.

"There's a resurgence of people planting veggie patches and raising chickens in their backyards," says Helen. "Wildcrafting is just an extension of that. In my clinic, I can sell people medicinal herbs, but I'd rather teach them how to use the plants they can easily find for themselves in the wild."

The natural world here is steeped in Maori legend and we're told never to divide a flax plant, which has a gel at the base of its outer leaves that can be used for cuts, wounds, sprains and bruises.

"According to tradition, the outer leaves of the flax plant represent the ancestors or grandparents, the next layer of leaves represent the parents and the new shoots represent the children. If the plant is halved, the family is too," warns Helen.

We stop to be shown the kawakawa leaves and are reminded to always choose the leaf with the most holes, because insects go for the most nutritious leaves.

After about an hour, we make it out of the bush at the top of Oceanview Rd before heading to Alison Park, with its sculptures, such as Paul Radford's Flotsam rowboat and Peter Lange's two brick and ceramic chairs. Before we arrive at the end of the walk, in local resident and distiller Jill Mulvaney's (alembics.co.nz) garden, we're given our last piece of advice as Helen picks up a giant leaf and tells us it's bushman's toilet paper.

Jill has been baking orange and calendula muffins and distilling from Portuguese handcrafted copper stills to make us nettle and lemon drinks. It's welcome relief after our walk and the distilling equipment set-up in her well-maintained backyard is impressive and makes a very pretty setting.

It feels like we've stumbled on a special cafe no one else knows about and, in a way, the walk offered the same feeling - we've found a more scenic route from the wharf to Oneroa and discovered natural health tips along the way, just by stopping to smell the weeds.

UP THE GARDEN PATH

Waiheke Walking Festival: (running October 27-November 4) Choose from 40 walks over the week at waihekewalkingfestival.org.

The Medicinal Plants in the Wild Walk is Saturday October 27 at 11am, or join the kids' Mini Beast Madness at Whakanewha Regional Park, Sunday 28 October, 2.30pm.

Travel by Fullers Ferry. For timetables, visit fullers.co.nz.

Pay your respects to the late Don Chapple, a local responsible for conservation work along the walking route. His book A Kindness to the Land: Don Chapple's Conservation Scrapbook is available from the Hauraki Islands branch of Forest & Bird for $20. Proceeds go towards the continuation of Don's work at the Atawhai Whenua Reserve.

- NZ Herald

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