Exploring heritage and nature at Waipapa Point

Holly Cunliffe, 9, and Spencer Cunliffe, 11, from Invercargill  enjoyed planting the native sand binder plants, pingao, as part of the working bee near  Waipapa Point

The combined Southland Forest and Bird and Heritage South trip to Waipapa Point on the south coast on 8 March  saw about 60 people climb to the top of the historic lighthouse, with some helping plant pingao or watching the  four sea lions lazing on the beach. After lunch a smaller group explored the remains of the historic gold dredge behind the sand dunes further along the beach in calm, mild conditions.

Department of Conservation staff explained the history of the  Waipapa Point Lighthouse, built in 1884 after New Zealand's worst maritime disaster when the passenger steamer Tararua hit the reef there and sank in 1881, with 131 lives lost.

The first lighthouse keeper was Arthur Ericson, whose family later farmed in the area for several generations. The bequest made to Southland Forest and Bird by the Ericson family when they left the area has enabled the re- establishment of some native pingao.

Trip leader and botanist, Brian Rance said there were probably only three original plants left there but more have been put in over three working bees with 23 now quite well established and 20 more put in on Sunday.

"The issue is controlling the introduced marram so the pingao can extend naturally," he said. "The sea lions sometimes roll on them and the rabbits find them palatable so they struggle."

People, including many tourists  were interested in seeing the old system in contrast with the modern equipment. It has been automated from about 1977, using solar panels backed up by batteries, all controlled from Wellington  with a flash every 5 seconds, based on a light sensitive system.

Ivan and Bev Harvey of Invercargill were especially delighted to have the chance to climb to the top of the lighthouse and get their family photo taken as they were holding a family get together, including a son from Adelaide. They had a strong connection to the light house as Ivan Harvey's grandfather, Henry Harvey, was the keeper there in the 1920s.

"Henry, born in 1889 and died in 1941, came home from the Boer War and this lighthouse keeping was his first job, going on to be a keeper for over 25 years, including in the Hauraki Gulf, Cape Brett, Taiaora Heads, Dog Island, Waipapa Point and Centre Island," I Harvey said. "Over this time they had seven children, including my father also named Henry, with the family going back to the family farm at Slope Point after their time at Centre island." 

"It was a real privilege to be able to see such a remote location and imagine what the wives had to put up with," B Harvey said. "We are so lucky to have the opportunity to get inside today when we were having our gathering."

Riverton Harvest Festival 2015

Matt Coffey advises Margaret Newton about choosing native plants to attract pigeons and tui as well as trees for bees to ensure pollination occurs.

The Riverton Harvest Festival was attended by people from all over Southland and beyond both during the day as people interacted with the many stall holders or attended workshops or enjoyed the Saturday night harvest dinner social occasion.

Coordinator Robyn Guyton said that the Harvest Festival event is going from strength to strength with over 100 registering for the various workshop options on offer and between 1500 and 2000  people coming to experience the atmosphere and learn from others.

"A full weekend of workshops, led by local experts as well as visiting specialists, alongside the  sales tables, displays, sumptuous food stall options and fabulous choices from the cafe  made this an event which was way beyond the expectations of us at the South Coast Environment Centre as the organisers,"  she said. "The enthusiasm, energy, knowledge and good will of people who contributed in so many ways, augurs well for next year."

Oreti Nursery owner Matt Coffey from Mossburn attended for the first time with his native plants and with appropriate species especially for riparian plantings and shrubs and trees to attract  bees.

"It was very positive from my perspective as it gave my business exposure to a new group of people, raised awareness of the need for riparian plantings and included income from sales which made the travel and time spent there worthwhile," he said. "I had a steady stream of people coming to talk, made connections and realised the potential is huge."

He met a core group of people who intend to continue planting natives on their lifestyle block or are keen to get started so they were pleased to get ideas and advice from Coffey, including how to attract native birds such as tui and bellbirds.

"People had been talking to the hobbyist bee keepers there who highlighted the need for plants for bees for ensuring pollination," he said. "People are realising the significance from the loss of honey bees, hoverflies, native bees and other insects needed for pollination  and are wanting to do something about it."

Co-organiser Robert Guyton said this has been the biggest and brightest Harvest Festival so far with the group members already thinking about next year and how they can build on the interest shown this year.

" We need to cope with the raised number of stall holders who have indicated they want to participate again next year," he said. "I noticed that people who came this year were very keen on the practical aspects of gardening, growing their own food and preserving the produce they have in abundance as a result of the bountiful harvest."

Templeton Flax mill museum open day

Vaughan Templeton shows the crowd some freshly scutched flax
at the Templeton Flax Mill Heritage Museum open day at Riverton  29 March 2015.

Trust members  and supporters of the Templeton Flax Mill Heritage Charitable Trust opened their working Museum for the public to be able to experience how the process of preparing the flax to be made in to twine happened over the years when the mill operating.

The open day was held in conjunction with the Riverton Harvest festival and was part of Southland Heritage Month programme organised by Heritage South.

The live flax fibre processing demonstration was repeated several times over the afternoon to enable a steady stream of visitors, about 350, to take advantage of the display.

Members of the Templeton family explained  the process using a video which involved their father, the late  Des Templeton outlining each step in the process of harvesting, stripping, washing, bleaching and drying, scutching and baling.

Supporters and Trust members were on hand to work the machinery which transformed the cut flax in to the raw fibre after the stripping and scutching done by the very noisy machines, with the explanation done by Vaughan Templeton.

" The fibre produced at this mill was sent to Donaghy's in Christchurch to be made in to twine," he said. " In its working life it needed twelve and a half ton of flax a day, producing one and a quarter tons of fibre a day."

The mill was started in 1911 at Waimatuku river mouth, shifting to its present site at Otaitai Bush after a fire in 1943, with the machinery still able to be used but necessitating rebuilding the mill. It was originally powered by steam until 1933 when it changed to electricity, closing down in 1972.

"This farm had 1000 acres of flax which produced about half the mill's requirements," he said." A top worker could cut 3 ton a day."

A group of women, led by harakeke ( flax) weaving tutor Winnie Solomon, were on hand to demonstrate  some of the ways it can be turned in to various useful and decorative items such as kits and flowers.

"It was a very busy day for our Trust members and volunteers but people seemed to enjoy seeing the mill operating and asked lots of questions showing a keen interest," Templeton said.