Tag Archives: pukeko

A new life for an old quarry

East Auckland’s Mount Wellington – or Maungarei, to use its original Maori name – is an extinct volcano, the youngest on-shore one in the region’s volcanic field. It last erupted 9- or 10,000 years ago and although ‘Maungarei’ means ‘the watchful mountain’ in Maori, it isn’t expected to erupt again anytime soon. Although, like most of Auckland’s volcanic cones, it’s called a Mount, it’s only 350 metres high. When Maori settled in the area around 600 years ago, they built a fortified pa on it and their vegetables flourished in the rich volcanic soil.

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The northern slopes of Maungarei-Mount Wellington, as seen from the wetlands, with part of the quarry rock face on the right.

The lava flow to the north of Maungarei was quarried for bluestone (basalt) from 1936 to 2001. Over 18 million cubic metres of rock were extracted from a 220 acre area, providing a large part of the building stone for Auckland and further afield.

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This feature wall in the nearby Speight’s Ale House  show old time quarrying in progress.

In 2001 there are any number of things to do with the decommissioned quarry, from total abandonment to lining it with a supposedly watertight material and using it as a rubbish dump. In fact, the latter solution was put forward but the project foundered and the site has now become an attractive wetlands nature reserve.

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A pukeko crosses the boardwalk.

A natural spring at the edge of the quarried area provides a series of small lakes which are home to pukeko, ducks, swans and water fowl, while tui and fantail love the flax flowers in the landscaped slopes surrounding the lakes.

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The reserve is landscaped with native plants including these flax and grasses

The reserve is a real asset to the residents of adjoining Stonefields: it provides a very welcome outdoor escape from some of the rather compact townhouse dwellings. A picnic area, grassy paths and boardwalks around the lakes make this a pleasant place to relax.

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Give me the joys and challenges of living in Ventimiglia Alta any day, but the residents of Stonefields are no doubt happy to have this peaceful reserve nearby instead of a rubbish dump!

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Pukeko versatility

Daytime sightings of New Zealand’s iconic bird, the kiwi, are extremely rare and although it is a nocturnal creature, encounters after dark seldom happen either. It is hardly surprising then that another native bird – one that is colourful and quirky and easily spotted – has been happily adopted as a sort of all-purpose mascot. The pukeko, or (less glamorously) the purple swamp hen, inhabits wetlands and grassy areas.

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Its feathers are gorgeous shades of blue and silky black, with a white tuft under its tail feathers. It struts jauntily about on sturdy red legs and has a distinctive red beak. Unlike the flightless kiwi, the pukeko can fly, although its takeoff and landing tend to be rather clumsy.

Over the last 15-20 years the pukeko has appeared increasingly in decorative and souvenir versions: everything from fridge magnets to paintings to quite bizarre garden décor.

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Take your pick in any gardening shop throughout the country. Notice how the pukeko on the bicycle is wearing gumboots like any true “kiwi” New Zealander. But also notice that this poor pukeko has “knees” (its legs bend like a human leg) whereas real pukeko have “elbows” in their legs – their legs are jointed like human arms. Prices are in New Zealand dollars – NZ$10.00 = €6.00

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Garden pukeko in all sizes, from a small bowl of succulents to life size.

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This pukeko family came to Dad’s garden about 15 years ago, carefully hand crafted in Taranaki. They’ve kept their colour amazingly well.

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At this time of year a pukeko may even sport a Santa hat and a beakful of tinsel.