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Eastwoodhill Arboretum

Daffodils and blossoms are blooming, birds are singing, and the trees are budding with fruit and new leaves. Thank goodness for Spring!

Eastwoodhill puts on a show at this time of year. It might not be the busiest time at the arboretum, Autumn is the jewel in the crown with its colour, contrast and crunching of leaves beneath our feet, but every season has its beauty. Even in winter, the craggy lichen covered trees make me feel like I'm walking the pathways of a haunted forest. We have a special taonga right on our doorstep and we need to use it, to protect it, and enable it to be maintained. “Eastwoodhill belongs to all of us” says Jane Williams, Chair of the Eastwoodhill Board. It's been a tough time here in Tairāwhiti and on the back of the pandemic and extreme weather events the number of visitors to the park has decreased. To keep it viable and contemporary, changes have been made to the structure of the Eastwoodhill board, including paid staff now manning the cafe, which is open in the weekends. The volunteers are fantastic Jane tells me, and it would be nice to welcome some youth into the team. She encourages locals to join the Friends of Eastwoodhill, a group of volunteers who aim to increase general public awareness and knowledge of native and exotic flora, and to help raise funds for maintenance and development. "If you’re interested in helping to preserve and develop Eastwoodhill, becoming a volunteer is a rewarding experience as working to uphold New Zealand’s National Arboretum is a privilege and a legacy to be left for many generations to come.”

Historically, the Eastwoodhill Board members have included a Williams family representative, and reps from DOC, GDC, Poverty Bay Horticultural Society and NZ Farm Forestry Association, but recently there is a move to partner with iwi, and discussions are taking place with representatives from Te Whānau a Kai to join the Eastwoodhill Board. Eastwoodhill Arboretum cloaks the lands of Ngati Hine, one of several hapū that make up Te Whānau a Kai iwi. Back in 1910, William Douglas Cook, better known as Douglas Cook, an eccentric forward thinker, won the land in the ballot for the Ngatapa subdivision, which he named “Eastwoodhill” after his family home in Scotland. Much like the story of Noah who foresaw the threat of ecological disaster and built an arc to save the animals, (William) Douglas Cook created an arboreal arc to save the trees. As the nuclear arms races escalated in the mid-20th century, Douglas Cook created a safe haven for northern hemisphere species threatened by the possibility of war. The arboretum’s remote location served as a place to propagate new plants that might restore species should they be lost in their native eco-system. Today, these threats remain, plus a few new ones, like climate change. Already, all over the world, forest ecosystems have been changed dramatically as keystone species are threatened or lost. Eastwoodhill is rare in its ability to host plants from the northern hemisphere in relative isolation. This unique characteristic combined with New Zealand’s stringent biosecurity regulations, makes the arboretum an ideal environment for the cultivation of threatened species.  25,000 of them!

Tawera Tahuri (Ngā Ariki Kaipūtahi, Whakatōhea, Ngāti Uenuku, Tūwharetoa) is a visual and performing artist, teacher, senior advisor for Indigenous Exchange at Creative NZ and organiser of the recent Houpapa Indigenous Sculpture Symposium, which was held at Eastwoodhill in July this year.

The collaboration provided an opportunity for artists to work with various species of wood, which had either been felled by extreme weather or in an effort to improve resource sustainability. Local Te Whānau a Kai affiliated artists and carvers, and international indigenous guest artist, Shirod Younker (Coquille Nation in Port Oregon, USA) spent five days creating artworks.

For Tawera Tahuri the sharing of indigenous knowledge and art forms that took place “gave space to the creative reindigenisation of Eastwoodhill” and Shirod Younker acknowledged the importance of collective guardianship of all tree species, as well as the important work being done by Eastwoodhill in the protection and conservation of these globally endangered species.

Looking forward, Tawera is excited about creative projects such as the installation of a waharoa or gateway to the arboretum and pou aranga or directional posts from the Waipaoa River bridge roundabout to Eastwoodhill, indicating specific waahi tapu or sacred sites of significance for Te Whānau a Kai on the way to the arboretum.

When we think about Eastwoodhill Arboretum, it pays to remember that it’s not just about getting to enjoy a bit of nature - by enjoying this taonga we are also helping to maintain a rare safe haven for trees. And there are a few different ways that we can support this important kaupapa…

  • Head out for a stroll and a picnic. There is a mobility scooter available for use if you need it and most of the pathways are wide and relatively accessible for people with disabilities.

  • Make a weekend of it! Check out Eastwoodhill’s clean and comfortable accommodation options.

  • Purchase a Friends Membership to Eastwoodhill which entitles you to free entry all year, or sign up to become a volunteer.

  • The Arboretum relies heavily on donations and bequests for the ongoing maintenance and development of the National Arboretum. Find their Give-a-Little page here:

You can be sure they they appreciate all and any support, big or little, everything makes a difference!

Story by Aimee Vickers

Symposium photograph by Hone Read Photography.

* In partnership with Te Whānau a Kai, Indigenous Exchange Creative New Zealand, Toihoukura and Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. The symposium name, ‘Houpapa’, references the history of Te Whānau a Kai, and remembers the ancestress Hinepuakirangi and her leadership and power upon the land.


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