The familiar bush-clad slopes of Mt Parihaka and fern banked Hātea River were once bordered by a thriving citrus orchard.
Its owner Herbert Boucher Dobbie was an interesting character with many talents who travelled around on his favourite penny farthing and maintained a love for native ferns since his first arrival in Auckland in 1875, age 23.
He first worked in Auckland then Picton in various engineering roles including drafting and illustrating before being stationed in Whangārei with the NZ Railways.
His role was as stationmaster of the new Whangārei to Kamo railway, which only ran three days a week, leaving time for other enterprises.
The section he and his wife Charlotte (nee Gillfillan, daughter of Henry Gillfillan, founder-secretary of the Hikurangi Coal Company) purchased in 1881 stretched from western Parihaka down to Mill Rd.
Dobbie had witnessed many orchards on his way across the Pacific to New Zealand and upon seeing the success of Mr Cafler in growing oranges nearby, he realised a potential opportunity.
Surely with a large dose each of hard work and determination Herbert and Charlotte transformed their manuka scrub into the idyllic scene pictured in photos in the Dobbie Collection in Whangārei Museum's Archives. .
Whangārei Museum also cares for a teak baby's cot which belonged to the Dobbies and was donated by Miss C Lupton. Contributing to Wairere Orchards was the work of another local gardener, Edmund Weaver, who ran a nursery and later vineyard in Western Hills. Many of the orange trees grown by Dobbie were supplied and planted by Weaver.
By 1890, Wairere had 2500 orange and lemon trees and had expanded with 1500 apple and pear trees, with plum, fig, walnut and other trees scattered around.
A characteristic feature of Wairere was a tunnel running from below the family house along 20m to the river bank.
Before the advent of refrigeration, this cold, dark tunnel was used for storing hundreds of cases of fruit, jars of marmalade, and wine until they were transported by boat.
The magic of the secret cave drew Herbert Dobbie's teenage sons and friends for late evenings tasting dad's fruit wines, and in a nearly disastrous incident it had drawn the interest of the visiting Governor General's (Earl of Glasgow 1892-1897) two sons, who nearly lost their heads while zooming down in a cart through the low tunnel entrance.
Dobbie's tunnel is listed as an archaeological site with Heritage New Zealand and what little that remains is on private property. However, we are lucky to still enjoy Dobbie's Reserve up the northwestern slopes of Parihaka, intact with the extensive remains of New Zealand's largest pa complex - kumara pits, house platforms and defensive earthworks.
The Dobbies left Whangārei in 1897 and later subdivided and sold their site to the Crown, but Herbert's passion for New Zealand native fauna is exemplified in his donation of 44 hectares for the walking reserve it remains today.
A stipulation for the reserve was that "no one was allowed to interrupt the important work of a gardener by engaging them in conversation or otherwise!".
After a stint in Africa, Dobbie settled in Auckland and set up a fernery. Having published the "blue book" of white illustrated ferns on a blue background during his early days in Whangārei, in 1921 he finally published a widely popular and still well regarded illustrated book titled "New Zealand Ferns".
For further reading, a well-researched compendium entitled "H. B. Dobbie-fern enthusiast" by J. D. McCraw is published in the New Zealand Journal of Botany.
"Wairere Ave" and "Dobbie's Track" remain testament to Herbert and Charlotte's work here.
Our Parihaka reserves blanketed in lush ferns and trickling waterfalls are an ode to Whangārei's rich history, the tipuna who lived and perished here, and to a group of passionate gardeners, contributing to one of Whangārei's key community spaces and attractions.
Dobbie's Orchard, along with other early orchards, features in the current "Growing Local" exhibition" at Whangārei Museum.
• Georgia Kerby is exhibitions curator, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.