Te Mata Park is a significant area of open space in Hawke’s Bay and is loved by locals and visitors for its unspoiled beauty. Its famous Peak stands at 399 metres above sea level at the western boundary of the bountiful Heretaunga Plains. The panoramic views take in all directions – as far as Mt Ruapehu on a clear day. The Park lies on the edge of dramatic uplifted limestone hill country, cut through by the Tukituki River. From the summit, with its spectacular views, a series of scarps, spurs and valleys drop away. There are massive rock cliffs and outcrops, studded with fossils of marine shells. Native vegetation clings to the cliffs and several of the plants on these cliffs are unique to Te Mata Park, and as a result are some of the rarest in New Zealand. Bush remnants and wetlands remain nestled in the valleys.
The location has been important to the inhabitants of the region for many centuries. The well-developed Karaka forests, especially the grove in upper Te Hau Valley, suggest intensive settlement by Maori in the past. Moa bones found on the slopes may also be associated with their occupation and there are numerous archaeological remains, including pa sites and other earthworks. The original forest canopy, with its abundant bird life, has been reduced to pockets in secluded valleys, following hundreds of years of Maori and European settlement.
The subsequent period of European settlement has resulted in the loss of much of the remaining naturalness, especially native bush and bird life, through farming development and the impacts of exotic animals and plants.
Geology: The Peak is a ‘Hogs Back’ ridge of erosion-resistant limestone dipping steeply to the west. These sedimentary rocks, originally deposited in horizontal layers on the seabed, have been tilted and bowed upward by the geological forces of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. The features of Te Mata Park are a result of the earthquake fault which runs from Wellington in the south, through the Ruahine ranges to Hawke’s Bay.
The cliffs and valleys of the Park are classic limestone features. The limestone is built upon the calcareous remains of billions of sea creatures that lived and died near the coast over innumerable millennia. The nature of the native vegetation found in Te Mata Park is strongly influenced by the lime-rich substrate.
Flora: Many significant native plants, some of them threatened species, can be found in Te Mata Park.
The native Daphne (Pimelea), listed as nationally threatened, grows in the Park. This is the only place in New Zealand where it grows in the wild with a total population of less than 100 plants.
Other plants of significance found in the Park include White Fuzzweed, Cliff Tussock and Tree Hebes.
There are three main native bush areas in Te Mata Park:
Webb’s Bush is the largest,containing large Karaka trees, (over 100 years old) as well as Ngaio and Mahoe that are many decades old.
The Karaka Grove in Te Hau Valley is believed to be more than 200 years old and the circular arrangement of the trees suggests it was a Maori ‘orchard’. Karaka were introduced by the Maori and grown for their large fruit which, when cooked, become edible.
The large grove of magnificent Giant Redwoods, planted by Mason Chambers in the 1930s, has become a favourite local landmark, and there are two further plantings of Redwoods in the Park.
Other non-native plantings, such as the Eucalypts and Banksias have great value to native birds, providing food at critical times of the year.
Fauna: There are many native birds of national and regional significance who call Te Mata Park home, along with additional visitors like the Kereru and the occasional New Zealand Falcon and Kaka.
The Park is of vital importance as a plant food source for native birds, especially in winter. The beautiful Kereru is reliant on food plants in the Park, as are Bellbird, Tui and Morepork. Their favourites include Kowhai, Lacebark, Cabbage tree, Karaka and Flax, plus some of the introduced Eucalypts, Banksias and Tree lucerne.
Restoration and Management
With increasing use, Te Mata Park faces ongoing ecological management challenges. The Park Trust focuses on preservation of existing features and a wide range of restoration projects. This translates to ongoing pest control (feral animals and invasive weeds), a native planting programme, and the regeneration of wetlands and native bush areas. Longer-term restoration projects include the felling of unsafe plantations of exotic trees, (predominantly pines) and progressive replacement with native bush. The Friends of Te Mata Park, an amazing group of tireless and highly knowledgeable volunteers, are responsible for much of this work.