Thursday, 14 April 2016

Pukaha Mt Bruce (1) The Miles of Bush

Yesterday I spent the morning at Pukaha Mt Bruce. The original plan was to climb the hill to the lookout, which I did. It is a beautiful walk up through the bush, with a stunning view from the top. Every few hundred metres I broke through spiders' webs strung across the path, so I knew that I was the first one up there that day.

Just before the main viewpoint, there’s another lookout over the bush. I’d heard about the 70 Mile Bush and 40 Mile Bush, but the signboards at the bottom of the track helped to get them into context. They explain that an ancient forest used to stretch between Norsewood in the north and Masterton in the south. This was the 70 Mile Bush, and the 40 Mile Bush was the “particularly impenetrable section” south of the Manawatu River.

For local Māori (as shown in a short video in the Pukaha Mt Bruce film room), this forest served as food storehouse, medicine chest, a place of learning and their home, connected to Tane Mahuta, god of the forest.

But to the European settlers in the 1800s, the forest was an obstacle that needed to be cut down to provide farmland and make way for roads and railway lines. It would be a tough job, and to carry it out, they recruited settlers from Scandinavian countries who were promised a free passage and at least 10 acres of land in return for their work on bush felling and road and railway construction.

It was hard, isolated work but gradually the bush disappeared, all except for a few remnants, one of which is the bush at Pukaha Mt Bruce, set aside as a reserve in 1888.

So my walk ended up giving me much more insight into the local community here, where many descendants of those first Scandinavian settlers would still have been living during the years of World War One. 

Memorial plaque by the former site of the Scandinavian camp
at the southern limit of the Seventy Mile Bush, now an empty field. 

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