Many thanks
to the good folk at

for permission to use graphics from their software and toposheets

21 August 2007

In the Steps of Jack Leigh

Chapter 17: Waitakere Nature Trail

(aka Arataki Nature Trail)

The Arataki Nature Trail comes in three parts: the Plant Identification Trail, the Upper Loop Track (both of which are pretty gentle and level, and the Lower Loop Track, which takes you right down into the valley and back again.

You get there, from Henderson by heading down Henderson Valley Rd, turning left into Forest Hill Rd and following it to the end, past West Coast Rd and then left into Scenic Drive. The Visitors Centre and parking area is several kilometres along on the right.

(The 1:50000 topo sheet is well out of date here and seems to refer to a time before the Visitors Centre was built or the tracks existed in their present form. This is a good opportunity to purchase one of the ARC Waitakeres maps which should be in every walker's pack.)

This is one of the odd occasions that Jack went bush, in print at any rate.

It's been on my "to do" list for ages, and so many publications, including Jack's, refer to it as the starting point for exploring the Waitakeres that it had to be ticked off the list sooner rather than later. There was also the point that it advanced my Jack Leigh project, which in itself was justification enough.

I'm sorry, folks!

It's OK. It's dry walking on a 2.4m wide gravel track, and there are some nice kauri at the far end and some nice toilets at the near end where there is also a nice parking area and a nice information centre. You get a chance on the return trip to get your heart rate up a little. But it's not the Waitakeres as I have come to know them. It's not even the Cascade Kauri which is getting pretty civilised, but still has its own special flavour.

About every couple of hundred metres, there's a sort of assembly point where a busload of tourists or school pupils can pause and look at the information board and be talked to. And there are a number of viewing platforms for looking at the tops of trees.

Anyway, lets start up at the Arataki Visitors Centre.

The central feature is the huge carved pole, and we are provided with information about the identities represented here. Arataki, so Jack tells us, is a made-up Maori word meaning "to guide through a trail".

While the elements are similar, it is obvious that no two translations agree exactly.

The carving is extremely popular with tourists.

I imagine that the expression on the face of the carving was put there in anticipation.

I also note that the erect penis appears to be circumcised. I'm not sure whether this was a Maori practice, or whether this is yet another manifestation of biculturalism.

We head past a class of school children towards the other side of the road by way of a tunnel. The tunnel features painted murals by various school pupils of just about every race currently resident in New Zealand.

A split infinitive no less.... I notice, though, that the vexed question of chairman, chairperson or chairwoman is neatly circumvented.

On the other side the first information panel greets us.

My inner school teacher still cringes at "most unique". It appears in any case from recent published research that the Gondwanaland theory may be set for drastic revision. I sincerely hope that "most unique" also is subject to drastic revision when the new information is readied for public consumption.

Moving on (or not), I find the concept of an "ark" a little incongrous in the context of the theme word"evolution" at the bottom. Maybe this is where Ark in the Park had its origins. I had always thought of it as a bad pun on A.R.C., the parent administrative body.

There is much worse to come, however.

God, I'm grumpy. It's been too long since I stretched my legs and got some fresh air.

Here we go, anyway.

Before long we arrive at a major fork. We head off along the Plant ID track. I confirmed a couple of ids I was unsure of, learned one new one that I hadn't seen before, and found what I think is one error in naming. About a year or so ago, 27 species of Carmichaelia were reassigned to a single species, C. australis. The track has not yet caught up with this. I'd reckon the plant ids on the Okura Walkway are of more interest and value.

I had been hoping for confirmation on a whole host of fern and sedge species, and some clarification on Pseudopanax, but it just wasn't happening. But it is a tourist and school track, not a specialist collection. As the Domain Wintergarden fern collection is closed to the public for structural repairs at present, I'll just have to wait a bit.

One of the features Jack mentions, and this sign picks up, is that this track offers an almost complete range of regenerating bush from the relatively recent at the top down to the grove of old kauri at the bottom. After the accessible timber had been cut out, farming was initially attempted but abandoned by the late 30s: soils were too poor to sustain farming. From 1940 on the area was protected and the bush crept back

Bracken provided the original nursery for seedling plants, and manuka and kanuka soon followed. The surviving trees provided seed and the forest began to re-establish. (Allan Esler makes the point that there is no such thing as bush, just a series of stages in a cyclic progression.)

It's a tad guilt-ridden for my taste.

Jack describes the signs as an ideal way for anyone to meet the bush. I'd have to cavill a bit here. I met the bush as a seven year old wandering about with our next door neighbour, Norm Alcock, on his property at Aka Aka and with my Uncle Bill on his possum trap line. I got to know old Mr James at Pukeoware, who lived in a patch of bush in an old villa with his two elderly sisters and I'd slip up there after school as a 9 or 10 year old and have tea and scones and walk around the property with him while he named plants and told stories. And there was Mrs Bischoff-Madden down the road in a vast garden planted out in natives, who showed me a letter written to her, when she was a girl, on a rangiora leaf.

But these days, old gentlemen who take small boys for extended walks in the forest are highly suspect. We were a fortunate generation, our one.

We head off down to the right along the ID Loop track. That's a massive kanuka...

Here's a young pukatea. There's a wonderful specimen of these on the Auckland City Walk. They were a tree of wet and swampy places, and to assist them in staying upright their trunks developed huge buttresses worthy of any medieval cathedral

[Here's a pic from the Mangakara walk near Pirongia to illustrate:


and here's the info board

Here's a spray of maire. This another area of research for the plant detective as there are several trees bearing this name, over a couple of genera. Same with mingimingi, come to that.

This is kawaka, Libocedrus plumosa, not a tree I've seen before, though I've heard of it. It's a member of the cypress family, though most New Zealanders would be a good deal more familiar with its foreign cousin the macrocarpa.

A large clump of kiekie gets an id sign as well.

and here's a wharariki. It has a softer leaf than P. tenax which is what we'd more commonly call flax, and it's seed pods are papery alongside the hard upright pods of P. tenax. It's becoming very popular with landscapers

Now I've always known this one as P. colensoi, so I do a little digging when I get home. (By the way, one of the most up-to-date online references for NZ plants is the New Zeand Plant Conservation Network


About half way round the ID loop, Parker Track heads off to link up with Parker Rd. It's a short jaunt, but today we are a little strapped for time, so another day.


There are two species of New Zealand Flax, with the Maori names harakeke and wharariki.

Phormium tenax (harakeke) was named by the Forsters in 1776. It's the plant most of us think of when we think flax. (Not right now, but later I'll write about the Forsters who played a significant part in our botanical history.)

Auguste François Le Jolis (1823-1904) named Phormium cookianum in 1848. This is wharariki

Wharariki has two distinct forms, with a full range of intermediate forms. Le Jolis' description of P. cookianum corresponds to the southern/mountain form.

In 1864, Ronald Gunn collected and named the northern/lowland form (also wharariki) as P. hookeri, and this was formalised by Hooker himself in 1888.

At the same time, 1864, Hooker f. renamed P. cookiana to P. colensoi, I'm not sure why, and so it remained until 1970, when Moore and Edgar affirmed the prior naming of P. colensoi as P. cookianum. This was widely (but not universally) accepted. My first encounter with wharariki probably led me to a pre-1970 reference work.

In 1979, P. Wardle proposed that P. hookeri be considered a subspecies of P. cookianum. P. hookeri would then become P. cookianum ssp hookeri, and P. cookianum would become P. cookianum ssp cookianum. This appears to be the situation at present as far as I can make out.

However, as there are a full range of intermediate forms, it may not be quite as simple as mooted to assign wharariki to its correct subspecies. It seems possible that, as with Carmichaelia, time will see an ultimate triumph for the clumpers, and P.cookianum will reign free of subspecies.

If you would like to be notified of new postings to Fathmandu,
click here

Track Reports

Annotated ARC



In the Steps of Jack Leigh


Fitness Building for the Elderly and Stout

Food for Tramping

General Advice:
Specifically oriented to the Heaphy Track but relevant to other long walks for beginners and older walkers

New Zealand Plants
(an ongoing project)

Links to Tramping Resource Websites