• Smallwings Luke

Beekeeping Grounds: Tararua Ranges

In a continuation of last weeks theme of going into detail about beekeeping Yards, I thought this weeks post would be about our fantastic little yard at the Levin edge of the Tararua ranges.

The honey that comes from this yard is my personal favorite, we labeled it as our Levin honey. It’s sweeter than the rest and has an almost marmalade fruitiness to it. It’s so good I use it as my condiment of choice for pancakes, that’s saying something, we all know how good maple syrup is.

This yard is nestled in a valley on the edge of the ranges and is surrounded by trees and native bush. It has its own kind of quiet serenity, sheltered from the wind with a daunting, picturesque view of a steep incline covered in thick bush.


Most of the names of Tararua Range peaks and streams are Māori, bestowed by the three long-standing iwi occupiers of the region; Muaupoko in Horowhenua, Ngāti Kahungungu in Wairarapa, and Rangitane around the Manawatu Gorge.

There is plenty of archaeological evidence, in the form of adzes, obsidian flakes and an umu [oven], that Māori regularly travelled through the range. This was particularly so as inter-tribal warfare intensified during the 1820s and ’30s, following the incursion into the region of Te Rauparaha and his Ngāti Toa tribe (and their Waikato and Taranaki allies).

During the early years of European settlement, the catalyst for the exploration of the Tararua Range was the need to survey the plains to the east and west of the range for occupation by new settlers. This required triangulation using sight lines from the highest peaks (on which were placed ‘trigs’). The best known of the early surveyors was Morgan Carkeek, who explored the range from the early 1860s on, producing the first map in 1875 (from Mount Hector in the south to Mount Dundas in the north). The surveyors were followed by a succession of adventurers (such as Charles Bannister and his two brothers) and naturalists (the most notable being Leslie Adkin, followed by Norman Elder). Many of them were interested in achieving greater protection for the range, while at the same time encouraging rudimentary development for tourism.

The History of the ranges is a long one involving many changes over the decades. As more settlers arrived the land was a resource for great logging exploits. As time went on the ranges were replanted and became a national park complete. This is a slight over simplification of what is a long and colourful history.

Flora & Fauna

Like all of New Zealands native bush land the Tararua ranges is a wealth of all kinds of plants and animals. It is also host to a large number of invasive species that are causing damage to the natural environment. Pests such as rats stoats and deer wreak havoc in an environment that has not evolved to accommodate their existence. Deer are such an issue that the government allow them to be hunted with the national park grounds.

If you think the vegetation of the Tararua Range is just gloomy bush, impenetrable leatherwood, and wet snow tussocks on the mist-shrouded tops you will be pleasantly surprised if you look closer. There is a fascinating and subtle pattern to the vegetation. This diversity stems from a whole host of site factors: exposure to wind, the depth and drainage of the soil, changes in altitude (affecting temperature and rain/snowfall) and aspect (whether the plants occur on the sunny or shady side of a ridge).

Kamahi is the most widespread tree in the Tararua Range, absent from only the highest and driest forest sites. In the north, along the western slopes, and in the Akatarawa catchment of the southwest, the forest canopy consists of kamahi, with scattered emergent rimu and miro. Other common species are totara, hinau, toro, rewarewa, mahoe and pigeonwood. In the valley floors and lower slopes below 350 m, northern rata can be a distinctive feature, towering above the canopy, but rimu (and sometimes miro) is still the main tree emerging above the canopy. A well known and superb example of this type of forest, completely unlogged, surrounds the Hutt and Pakuratahi Rivers in the vicinity of Pakuratahi Forks (see Kaitoke Regional Park).

In the lower western foothills of the Tararua Range (where frosts are limited), tawa is the main forest canopy tree. This forest has very much of a ‘rainforest’ feeling to it, with dense thickets of tree ferns (ponga, mamaku and wheki), supplejack and kiekie and epiphytes on the larger trees. Good examples of tawa-dominated rainforest can be experienced at the entrance to most of the western valleys of the park; the Ohau River, Makaretu Stream, Waikawa Stream and the Mangaone Track through the upper Waikanae River. Closer to the coast at lower altitudes, kohekohe and nikau palms can become a major component, particularly in the forests behind Waikanae township.

Many forest remnants remain outside the park on the Hautere, Manawatu and Wairarapa Plains. Around river margins and in sand plains, where soils can be wet for long periods, swamp forest (kahikatea, pukatea and swamp maire) can be found. On the higher stony river terraces, the soils are freer-draining and support more drought-tolerant trees such as totara, matai and titoki. These trees remain as the attractive forest remnants that dot the farmed Hautere Plains, passed through en route to Otaki Forks. Closer to the coast, pockets of ngaio, mahoe, kohekohe, wharangi, karaka, rewarewa, akeake and titoki remain among the sand dunes.

And with that another location is covered, I hope you found it interesting and learnt a little something.

Until next time Bee good.

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