Saturday, 15 October 2011

Wellington coast at Makara

We took a great little walk today from Makara towards Opau Bay, along a section of Wellington coast.  The walk itself is described here, but I want to write about some of the plants.
The coastal cliffs are formed along the Ohariu Fault, one of the three main fault lines that define, and threaten, Wellington.  The cliffs are about 180 m tall here, and not so steep that you can’t scramble down them in most places.  Still, they give spectacular views up the coast to Kapiti and Mana Islands and westward across Cook Strait to the South Island.
Looking north from the cliff top.  Mana Island with Kapiti Island behind; Pukerua Bay headland (distant right) and Pipinui Point (closer, right)
East of the cliffs, it’s sheep farming country, but now also a wind farm.  The huge turbines were spinning slowly in today’s gentle breeze.
Down on the coast, it's pretty weedy, but a few native plants persist here.  Tetragonia is an edible, scrambling, slightly fleshy, plant in the ice-plant family Aizoaceae; this one is probably T. trigyna.
Tetragonia trigyna
A relative in the same family was also common on the coast: Disphyma australe.
Disphyma australe
At the high point of the track, there are more turbines, and on the cliff top two old gun emplacements from World War II.  Here the track descends again towards Opau Bay.
Looking south to Opau Bay
In the gully here a few trees of Pennantia corymbosa form the beginnings of a low forest among the mostly native scrub of tauhinu and coprosma.
Pennantia corymbosa
A few plants of Clematis forsteri were in flower among the scrub.  Sabrina said they smelled like feijoa fruit and she could smell them from a few metres away, whereas I could detect no scent even close up.  Callum said feijoa too, independently.  All the ones we saw were male.
Clematis forsteri
The flowers are pale yellow, and hairy on the backs of the sepals:
Clematis forsteri male flower
One patch was heavily infested with a rust fungus that distorted the growth of stems and leaves.  The little pink dots on the right hand piece are pustules where spores are released.
Clematis forsteri, infected by rust fungus (right) and not infected (left).

Some quite spectacular weeds grow in places along the coast.  Artemisia arborescens is a common hedge plant in coastal areas and has probably spread here from the nearby settlement.
Artemisia arborescens.

Aloe saponaria was growing beside one of the gun emplacements.  I wonder if it was originally planted there by the gun crews.
Aloe saponaria

Although we had an almost still day, there's no doubt this is a windy coast.  First of course, the decision to put a wind farm here reflects that, but also many of the plants are wind-shorn.  This Melicytus alpinus was so stunted that it was almost a solid outer shell of wood, with a few fleshy leaves attached.

Melicytus alpinus.

They say you can't beat Wellington on a good day.  I think the statement is deliberately ambiguous; it could refer to the rugby team, or to the weather.  Whatever, today was a good day.


  1. I lived for a year at Makara Beach, and fondly remember walks along those cliff tops. Is there any native forest restoration going on along the south-west coast?

  2. I didn't see any managed restoration, but there's a lot of native scrub, which in the long term must be naturally regenerating forest. I'm keen to explore there some more.

  3. I had (have) a couple of Aloe saponaria plants on my section, they were growing on a bank under a macrocarpa tree. I uprooted them over a year ago and tossed them on a pile of bamboo discard. When i was clearing that area again a week or so ago i noticed them again, looking healthy as ever even though they had not put down any new roots!

  4. I haven't been on that walk since I was a teenager, and I don't think I really appreciated it then! Am inspired now to do it again!

    It's endlessly fascinating how different people can and and can't smell certain things ...