Thursday, 27 February 2014

Around the Pauatahanui Inlet

We were going to take the bikes into town on the Johnsonville train on Monday – just for another experience – and bike along the Wellington Waterfront. But when I came back from meeting a friend in the morning, it was nearly lunchtime and we’d just missed the train, so instead we decided on another ride that we had been wanting to do – from Porirua to Whitby.

We parked the car near the Whitireia Polytechnic, and set off along the harbour’s edge path towards the Porirua Stream. A beautiful, smooth path, and very pleasant surroundings.

The path along the Porirua Stream (photo by John)

The stream is very shallow, perhaps only about 20 cms deep. I don’t know if the depth is affected by the incoming tide – the tide was out when we were there. There is a weir across the stream, with just a small amount of water quietly running over it. We saw a heron walking across the weir, from one bank to the other. When we came back, it was crossing back to the other side. John thought this must be its territory, I thought it might just be looking for lunch. But then, neither of us knows very much about birds.

We saw a heron crossing the weir (in the central left of this photo) (photo by John)

In the above photo, the weir is at the central left, right by a water-level measuring tower. At the start of his working career, John was involved in designing instruments for measuring river levels. He’s seen a fair few of these towers, some in much less placid environments than this.

This stream-side path ended near Kenepuru. I believe that eventually, this path will continue along the stream all the way to Tawa (refer to my post about Tawa)

So we went back and crossed the bridge over the stream and the motorway. The bridge is actually the off-ramp into Porirua from the south-bound motorway. It has a nice wide foot/cycle path, separated from the traffic.

The motorway off-ramp bridge across the stream and motorway (photo by John)

Once across the bridge, the smooth path continues next to the motorway for a short distance, before heading up the hill towards Aotea College and the Gear Homestead “Okowai”. I didn’t like this bit of path very much, as not only was it steeper than I like, it was also quite loose gravel, making it quite skiddy. But it did offer nice views towards Porirua Harbour.

I didn’t much like the skiddy gravel on this path from the motorway to Aotea College (photo by John)

The path overlooked some lagoons, the motorway and railway line, over towards the Porirua Harbour (photo by John)

In the trees below the Gear Homestead, there is an aerial obstacle course, called “Adrenalin Forest”. In the photo below you can make out some of the wires, ropes and platforms that make up this challenging action circuit (you may need to enlarge the photo by clicking on it). I had a look at the website and it looks quite hair-raising. Not my cup of tea at all …

The wires, ropes and platforms in the trees are part of an aerial obstacle course (photo by John)

When I’d struggled up the hill, we went into the grounds of the lovely Gear Homestead.

This beautiful house, which is registered with the Historic Places Trust, was built in 1887 for James Gear, the founder of the Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Company and an early pioneer in the export of refrigerated meat. The house is also famous for having been one of the settings for Peter Jackson’s first feature film, “Bad Taste”.

The house and grounds are now owned by the Porirua City Council, and it is used as a venue for functions, such as weddings.

Side view of the Gear Homestead (photo by John)

In fact, Gear Homestead is where our eldest daughter was married, 19 years ago this month. The wedding day dawned as a beautiful, cloudless, perfect day, after a week of torrential rains. As the plan had been for a garden wedding, everyone was greatly relieved that summer had returned in the nick of time!

We have further associations with the historic woolshed in the grounds. This building originally housed the stables for the homestead, and was later used as a woolshed. Today, this is the home of several crafts clubs, amongst which the Gear Homestead Woolshed Potters, of which my potter sister Aimée has been a member for many years. At various times she has been a committee member and tutor, and has taught a number of courses to both novice and experienced potters.

The Woolshed, which houses the Woolshed Potters’ club rooms (photo by John)

The space upstairs is (or was, I’m not sure what the status is now) shared between the Kapiti Camera Club, Attic Artists, and Gear Woolshed Fibrecrafts. In my days as a weaver, I have attended quite a few gatherings of the Woolshed Spinners and Weavers, as they were called at the time. I have also attended workshops there, as well as taught several courses in advanced weaving.

In those days, there were some (quite rickety) stairs on the outside of the building, which were a bit of a challenge when carrying up table looms and teaching paraphernalia. The building was recently refurbished to make it earthquake-safe, and I suppose the stairs were considered a hazard, and were probably not part of the original building anyway. Aimée tells me there is now a new entrance, with stairs, at the back of the building. 

From here, we rode down the hill, past Aotea Lagoon, along Papakowhai Road, and before the Paremata Bridge, turned right into Paremata Road, which skirts along the Pauatahanui Inlet, on its way to Whitby. For a short distance there was a shared foot and cycle path, but that soon ran out and we were riding on the road, trying to keep as far left as possible, without tumbling off the edge. We were surprised at how many large trucks were rumbling past us – not a comfortable feeling. It was good having our rear-vision mirrors, so at least we could see them coming.

Looking back at the Paremata boatsheds and the Paremata Bridge (photo by John)

There was a steep bit of road, that climbed over a spur of land, and was even steeper going down the other side. I didn’t much like that bit, as it was also narrow, and did not offer much protection from the trucks. But after that, the road was mercifully flat, going along the edge of the Inlet. The tide was out, and large areas of mud flats were exposed.

The hill we had to climb over before coming down to the mudflats (photo by John)

There are several “entrance” roads into Whitby, and when we got to the third of these, John asked how much further I wanted to go. Did I want to turn around here? But now that we were on the flat it was rather pleasant riding (despite having to ride on the road) so I suggested we could ride all the way around the Pauatahanui Inlet.

The road skirts around the Pauatahanui Inlet (photo by John)

The Pauatahanui Inlet is a significant estuarine environment. Forest and Bird has restored the area, which was formerly farmland, to much of its natural wetland state.  The Inlet is a side-arm of Porirua Harbour, and several areas are protected and administered by DOC (Dept of Conservation). One of these is the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve, which is a coastal wetland containing a mosaic of tidal flats and indigenous marsh vegetation.

The Inlet is home to a large number of species of birds, and DOC has provided information boards, tracks and hides from which to observe birds.

The Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve is home to many species of waterbirds (photo by John)

After Whitby, the road turns away from the water’s edge, as it goes around the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve and leads to the small village of Pauatahanui. We stopped briefly to take a picture of the Taylor Stace Cottage, which is the region’s oldest surviving house, having been built in 1847. I remember visiting it many years ago, when it was a craft gallery. It was surrounded by a lovely garden. The cottage has since been extensively restored, and there is nothing left of the garden. Somehow it doesn’t look as charming as it did back then.

Taylor Stace Cottage was built in 1847, and restored in 2011 (photo by John)

Once through the village, we turned left into Grays Road, which leads around the other side of the Inlet, and ends up at Plimmerton. Fortunately we didn’t have to stay on the road very long, as we were soon on a boardwalk through the Wildlife Reserve.

The boardwalk initially runs more or less parallel to Grays Road (photo by John)

The northern end of the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve

In places the boardwalk becomes a smooth concrete track (photo by John)

The lead-up to the bridge over one of the streams feeding into the estuary provided seating and information boards about plants and fish that thrive in this area where fresh water meets salt water.

A bridge over on of the streams, with seating and information boards (photo by John)

One of the boards provides information about the plants: “Here we are on the edge of a salt marsh, where fluctuations in sea level and rainfall create a dynamic and challenging environment for plants. The zonation of plant life we see around the edges of estuaries is directly related to how tolerant a species is to saturated soils and to salinity levels”.

The other board tells us about the fish: “Most people are surprised to learn that NZ has 37 freshwater fish species; [of these] half spend part of their lives in the sea. Whitebait species, eels, bullies and torrentfish all migrate between fresh and salt water”.

One of the many streams feeding into the Inlet – note the birds on the mudflats (photo by John)

The boardwalk/track that we had been on was called “Te Ara Piko

When the boardwalk/track ended, a narrow loop road led off Grays Road onto Motukaraka Point. A pleasant area where several beautiful large homes with gorgeous gardens overlook the estuary. This area was once a Māori pā site – in the 1820s Te Rangihaeata, a Ngāti Toa chief, established a fighting pā here. During World War II, there was a US Marines camp here, housing about 5,000 personnel. An information board in the reserve provides photos and details about this camp.

Motukaraka Point (photo by John)

Once back on Grays Road, we were again having to ride on the narrow shoulder of the road, but thankfully we were soon able to divert onto the Camborne Walkway.

Between Motukaraka Point and the Camborne Walkway, we had to ride on the shoulder of Grays Road (photo by John)

The Camborne Walkway is a wide gravel path very close to the water. We encountered a lot of walkers – some Mums with pushchairs, and some people walking their dogs. It’s obviously a popular area for dog owners to let their dogs go for a swim or chase sticks in the water. I slowed down as a large Labrador emerged from the water, because I knew he was going to shake himself and I didn’t want to be in the firing line of the flying water.

The Camborne Walkway, with Paremata in the distance

Before long, we were riding behind the Camborne boatsheds. Some of them look like ideal “retreats", complete with decks and little gardens, making the most of limited space. Beyond the boatsheds, there was a short distance where the track deteriorated to soft sand, so we had to get off and walk.

Behind the Camborne boatsheds (photo by John)

Then it was onto a side-road off the Mana Esplanade. We crossed the main road into the Ngati Toa Domain, and rode through the marina area, where John insisted on diverting through a very rough little track, overgrown with toetoe. I was not amused, as we had to struggle and push our bikes through it. However, being able to take a nice photo of a yacht anchored offshore, made up for it.

At the edge of the toetoe-covered track

Now we were on our way back to Porirua, biking the way we came – past Aotea Lagoon and Gear Homestead, and down the steep and scary gravel path back to the edge of the motorway. Relief, when we got to the smooth cycle path near Whitireia Polytechnic.

This foot-and-cycle path is beautifully smooth (photo by John)

As we arrived back at the car, we saw a team of young women bringing a large waka back onto the shore, having been out for a practice paddle. In this area there was a large boathouse and several waka with outriggers (waka ama) were laid up on the lawn. I understand that Whitireia Polytechnic offers a course in Waka Ama.

A crew bring a waka ashore (photo by John)

Waka ama

What started out as a shortish ride from Porirua to Whitby, turned into a much longer ride right around the Pauatahanui Inlet. I must say that I was surprised to find that we had ridden “only” 28 kms. I thought it would have been more than that. But it was a lovely easy ride – apart from a couple of hills – and one that we are sure to want to do again.

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