Gully Restoration Project

In pre-European times, the Kelburn Normal School site was just a steep gully with a small stream running down the centre. On the lower slopes there were tall kahikatea, fuchsia and pukatea.

The stream was ferny and in the winter glow worms shone in the dark. On the upper levels there were tall rata with kiekie and astelia epiphytes festooning their branches. Hiding among the epiphytes, peripatus and Bush Weta crawled.

Occasionally Maori would visit from the Pipitea or Kumutoto settlements to hunt for pigs or birds. They sometimes collected firewood, black maire the best. Women would forage for berries from tawa, titoki and karaka and perhaps collect kiekie for weaving or kawakawa for medicinal purposes. Their children would paddle in the stream catching koura or native trout.

Sometimes people gathered building materials such as totara for carving and supplejack for binding.

Above them would be bellbirds, tui, grey warbler and even Kokako, creating the birdsong whose glory can nowadays only be heard in such privileged places as Kapiti Island.

A lot has happened in the gully since that time. It was eventually cleared for farmland and over time many introduced plants and weeds took over. Later it became a dumping ground but in the last eight years there have been significant and ongoing attempts to improve the land.

The suburb of Kelburn, developed at a time when the idea of the garden city and the house and garden were fashionable, is located adjacent Wellington’s Botanic garden and on the road to Karori. With the development of the Karori Sanctuary, the gully planting is seen as contributing to a system of corridors that distribute birds into the urban area.

As time goes by, the inner city of Wellington will become more and more subject to higher density living. Along the way the green spaces of our parks and attached to our schools will become more and more valuable and treasured as safe, easily supervised adventure and outdoor learning environments.

Today there is a comprehensive gully weeding and planting programme in place, driven by the efforts of the parent community and by a vision to create a resource that will be an integral part of the school now and in the future.

What better vision than to create a permanent wilderness of restored bush to bring adventure and learning experiences to inner city “Kelburn Kids”.

Future adventure activities could include a rough cross country track, confidence building or camping-style activity. Educational projects could be developed in designated project areas providing small specialised habitats, such as Weta homes or feeding places to attract birds.

Botanically the bush is full of medicinal or edible items. For example, the Kiekie produces an apparently delicious fruit that is seldom seen because it is loved by the birds and the possums.

There are also cultural stories to tell. For example, resident plants Mahoe and Kaikomako were used in the making of fire by the Maoris. What better way to lead into the story of Maui and Mahu-Ika and the origin of fire.

Abridged and edited from Rob Ansell’s Gully Chronicles