Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is home to an abundance of our native flora and fauna. Through collaborative biosecurity control programmes we’re committed to ensuring this pristine habitat stays a precious taonga.
Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is a diverse forest ecosystem in a dramatic landscape, right at our backdoor. It is a place where we can connect with our precious natural environment. The Gorge is home to many native animals and unusual plant communities. Taonga species such as tītipounamu (riflemen), kārearea (New Zealand falcon), kererū (New Zealand wood pigeon), giant maidenhair fern and northern rātā are found here. In order to protect our native flora and fauna biosecurity control is undertaken through a range of partners including landowners, iwi, Department of Conservation and Horizons Regional Council.
Te whenua me te tāhuhu kōrero
Geography and history
Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is the scenic divide between the Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges, which border Palmerston North and the Manawatū and Tararua Districts. It is a magnificent geographical structure, formed over thousands of years by tectonic forces and the flow of the Manawatū River. It is the only place in New Zealand where a river begins its journey on the opposite side of the main divide to where it joins the sea. With its native bush and wildlife, Te Āpiti is a time capsule that preserves the bush that once covered the Manawatū, a place frozen in time.
The Tararua and Ruahine ranges formed around three million years ago, although most of the uplift of their ancient greywacke rock has occurred over the last one million years. This makes them the youngest mountain ranges in the world, and their relatively young age shows how tectonically active the Manawatū landscape still is.
The name Te Āpiti, meaning ‘the narrow passage’ was bestowed upon the Manawatū Gorge by the Rangitāne tribe, the tangata whenua. The passage was crucial as it connected eastern and western parts of their 700-year old border. Before the road was built, local Māori would haul their waka (canoes) upstream through the rapids of the Manawatū River, which they named Te Au Rere a Te Tonga, meaning ‘the rushing current of the south’.
Ngā manu o Te Āpiti
Birds of Te Āpiti
Pōpokatea | Whitehead
The Pōpokatea or Whitehead, are gregarious songbirds that hang out in groups - you will likely hear their chirps and chatters before you see them. Pōpokatea have a distinctive white head and a compact body, short tail, dark bill, legs and eyes. Populations have declined in the past due to deforestation and predation by introduced mammals like ship rats and stoats.
Image © Duncan Watson
Kāhu | Swamp Harrier
The kāhu, or swamp harrier, is a bird of prey that calls Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge home. While kāhu are abundant in most of New Zealand, they’re less likely to be found in large areas of forest. They’re opportunistic hunters, eating both dead and live prey. Kāhu are known for their dramatic ‘sky-dancing’ courtship display. They’re the largest of the 16 harrier species found worldwide, weighing 650 grams for the males and 850 grams for the females.
Image © Ormond Torr
Kōtare | Kingfisher
The kōtare, or native kingfisher, is well-known with its easily identifiable green-blue back and yellowish underside. Found in a range of habitats, the key necessities are an elevated perch to hunt from, as they dive-bomb their prey, and banks or trees to burrow their nests in.
Image © Marie-Louise Myburgh
Pūtangitangi | Paradise Shelduck
The pūtangitangi, or paradise shelduck, is a noisy waterfowl that could be mistaken for a small goose. Females are chestnut with a white head, while the males are dark grey/black all over. This conspicuous species can be found on river flats in mountain areas. While their numbers are now plentiful, previously excessive hunting severely impacted the abundance of the species.
Image © Oscar Thomas by Oscar Thomas
Pīwakawaka | Fantail
With its distinctive tail and loud song the pīwakawaka, or fantail, is one of New Zealand's most well-known birds. Pīwakawaka are confident little birds and will often come within a metre or two of people while chasing small flying insects. While the pīwakawaka copes fairly well in a variety of habitats, from native forest to farm shelterbelts or suburban parks, nesting adults, eggs and chicks are not immune to being preyed upon by animal pests such as possums, stoats and rats.
Image © Eugene Polkan by Eugene Polkan
Korimako | Bellbird
Korimako, or bellbirds, are deep green with wine red eyes. They feed on nectar, fruit and insects and are found in a variety of habitats across the country. They play an important role in pollinating flowers of native species as they feed on the nectar. Although korimako are still widespread on the New Zealand mainland, research has shown that mammalian predators, such as rats and stoats, keep their numbers low. The song of a korimako varies depending on where in the country they live, but all comprise of ringing notes that are easily recognisable.
Image © Craig McKenzie by Craig McKenzie
Kārearea | Falcon
The kārearea, or NZ falcon, can be found in dense native bush as well as open habitats such as tussocklands. They’re a magpie-sized bird of prey, feeding mostly on live prey such as small birds and rabbits, while juveniles will often feed on insects while learning to hunt. Kārearea are recovering from being an at-risk species. While they are often aggressive in protecting their eggs and young, they are still threatened by stoats, rats and possums.
Image © Tony Whitehead by Tony Whitehead www.wildlight.co.nz
Ruru | Morepork
Ruru, or morepork, are New Zealand’s most well-known owl, with their distinctive 'more-pork' call. These small, dark brown, speckled birds have striking yellow eyes and are found in native bush remnants throughout much of the country. Ruru are roughly 1.5 kilograms and are at risk of predation when nesting from cats, possums, rats and mustelids.
Image © Adam Clarke
Kawaupaka | Shag
Kawaupaka, or little shag, are a small shag species growing to anywhere between 400-900 grams, and can be found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats. Kawaupaka have a huge variation when it comes to their plumage, but are mostly black and white with yellow bills. While they’re fairly common north of Auckland, they’re less likely to be found in the lower North Island.
Image © Peter Reese by Peter Reese
Miromiro | North Island Tomtit
Another of our smaller species, the hōmiromiro, or North Island tomtit, is roughly double the size of a rifleman at 11 grams. Hōmiromiro inhabit forests and shrublands, and are rarely seen in open habitats. Male hōmiromiro are songbirds and are often heard in full song. Both sexes also make short ‘seet’ ‘zet’ or ‘swee’ contact calls. The biggest threat to hōmiromiro are introduced mammalian predators such as stoats and rats.
Image © Albert Aanensen by Albert Aanensen
Image © Paul Shaw
Matuku Moana | White-Faced Heron
New Zealands’s most common heron can be found stalking pretty in almost any aquatic habitat. It’s a tall elegant bird with blue-grey plumage. Matuku moana, or white-faced herons, usually nest at the tops of large pine or macrocarpa trees, or occasionally on man-made structures.
Image © Adam Clarke
Tītipounamu | Rifleman
The teeny, tiny rifleman comes in at a whopping six grams and is one of our smallest birds. They’re found mostly in mature forests, particularly with beech and podocarp species, both of which are predominant in Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge. Tītipounamu are noted to be found in high densities particularly in the Tararua Ranges, however, populations are threatened by habitat clearance and pest animals such as stoats and rats.
Kererū | New Zealand PigeonOur native pigeon is a large bird, weighing over half a kilogram. Kererū are distinctly marked with white feathers on the underside of their body, and blue-green plumage with purple-bronze iridescent on their neck and wings. They’re mainly at threat from predator pests including possums, stoats, rats and cats, particularly while they’re nesting.
Tūī | Parson BirdTūī are easily recognisable from a closer distance with their white throat tufts and blue, green, and bronze iridescent sheen. They play a very important role in the dynamics of our forests because they are one of the most common pollinators of flowering plants, and disperse the seeds of trees with medium-sized fruits. Tūī respond extremely well to pest control programmes targeting their main predators - stoats and rats.
Ngā rākau o Te Āpiti
Plants of Te Āpiti
TōtaraTōtara is a species of podocarp endemic to New Zealand, and is noted for its longevity and girth. It is commonly found in lowland areas and grows to about 30 metres tall, with trunks up to four metres in diameter. Its bark has a purplish to golden brown hue and peels off in papery flakes, and its needle-like leaves are stiff and leathery. Tōtara has traditionally been used by Māori for canoes and carving, as its wood is hard, straight-grained and very resistant to rot. These properties mean it has also been used for fence posts, floor pilings and railway sleepers.
Northern RātāThe northern rātā is one New Zealand’s endemic forest giants. This tree can grow up to 30 metres tall, with a trunk up to two metres in diameter. Metrosideros means ‘iron-hearted’, referring to the immense hardness and density of the timber. It can be common in lower-altitude forests throughout the North Island, and in the north of the South Island. Northern rātā can cross with pohutukawa to form hybrids between the two species. The flowers are bright red to dark-crimson and appear late spring through early summer. The fruit is a woody capsule, up to about 6 mm across, which releases very fine hair-like seeds when ripe. Māori had many medicinal uses for different parts of the northern rātā, including relief from ringworm, aches and pains, wounds, cold/flu, toothaches, sore throats and bruising.
NīkauThe nīkau is the only palm species native to mainland New Zealand and is the world's most southerly growing palm. It grows up to 15 metres tall, with a stout green trunk which bears grey-green leaf scars. On average, two fronds are shed per year, leaving behind a leaf scar on the trunk which can be used to give a rough indication of its age. The nīkau sprouts large clusters of mauve flowers year round, which burst from the base of the lowest frond. The flowers are sticky and sweet with nectar, which attracts insects, especially bees. The nīkau produces fruit that take almost a year to fully ripen. These are a favourite food of the kererū - the native wood pigeon. Nīkau have always had importance in Māori life, with uses ranging from building materials, a food source, and medicinally as a laxative.
RamaramaRamarama is an endemic species of evergreen myrtle tree that grows to a height of eight metres. Its scientific name, bullata, is from the Latin word meaning bubble. Ramarama inhabits the North and South Islands, and is found in coastal and lowland forest margins and stream banks. Its thick, leathery, glossy, blistered leaves are 2.5-5 centimetres long, and are a broad oval-shape. They are dark to yellow-green, and mottled and/or spotted with red, maroon or purple-black circular blemishes. White to pale pink cup-shaped flowers, dotted with tiny warts, 12 millimetres in diameter, appear from November to March. Small dark reddish-purple berries become black as they ripen and appear from January to June. Māori used a decoction from the berries to treat bruises. Unfortunately, ramarama is susceptible to myrtle rust, now spreading throughout New Zealand.
Taurepo | New Zealand GloxiniaTaurepo is the sole representative of this genus and the only member of the gesneria (gloxinia) family in New Zealand. This small twiggy shrub grows up to two metres tall and is found in coastal to lowland forests, streamside, on steep banks and upland locations throughout the North Island. Taurepo flowers throughout the year but the peak time is October to February. The small, brightly coloured trumpet shaped flowers are mainly adapted for bird pollination, and range in colour from brick-red to orange, and more rarely, a pale yellow. Fruiting occurs throughout the year and the seeds are a tiny dry capsule, which develops a few weeks after the flower dies.
Giant Maidenhair FernThe giant maidenhair fern is now very rare in the wild in New Zealand, but is common in Australia. Here in New Zealand, the only known wild populations still existing are confined to the Manawatū Gorge and Woodville area. It grows in moist shaded areas along streams, usually on alluvial soils. This pretty fern can grow to 90 centimetres tall and has delicate black stems.
Kawakawa | PeppertreeKawakawa is a common shrub/small tree in New Zealand forests, notable for its shiny heart-shaped leaves, which are often riddled with holes caused by the native looper caterpillar. The peppery-tasting leaves are poisonous to most other insects. Kawakawa has separate male and female flower spikes, often paired together, that resemble slender, erect candles. The fruits are small, fleshy and orange-yellow. The leaves have a long history of medicinal use and are used with traditional practitioners in preparing rongoaa (Māori medicine). Chewing on a leaf also helps to freshen breath.
TawaTawa is a tree common in the central parts of New Zealand. It is often the dominant canopy species in lowland forests in the North Island, growing up to 30 metres or more in height with trunks up to 1.2 metres in diameter and smooth bark. Small greenish-yellow flowers are followed by 2.5-4 centimetre long, dark purple fruit. Kererū (New Zealand wood pigeons) eat the fruit and then disperse the seed. The aromatic bark was used to make infusions to treat stomach aches and colds, and was particularly enjoyed by travellers as a fortifying drink. The fruit and kernels were a prized food source of Māori and European settlers alike.
Kareao | SupplejackSupplejack is a woody evergreen climbing vine endemic to New Zealand. It usually grows in forests, and occasionally in swamps. It has hard but flexible black, cane-like stems that climb high up into the forest canopy. Kareao flowers from October – May, but bears clusters of red berries throughout the year. During summer supplejack tips can grow 5 centimetres a day, enabling the plant to climb quickly. Traditionally, supplejack was used by Māori to bind and pull objects. For example, to tie firewood together and for towing small canoes. It also had medicinal uses.
Kohia | NZ PassionfruitKohia is a species of passionfruit that is endemic to New Zealand. It can be found frequently in lowland forests throughout the North Island and as far as the middle of the South Island. The mature stems of kohia can be up to 15cm thick and often form snake-like coils on the forest floor in their lower parts but extend from there up into the forest canopy. Flowers that are small and greenish white appear from mid-spring through summer on both the male and female plants. The female plants also form fruits like small balloons which are bright orange. Birds break the fruit open to eat the seeds and often drop the empty cases to the forest floor.
Pukatea | NZ LaurelPukatea is found from sea level to 600m throughout the North Islandin wet sites.. It is among the tallest of our flowering trees and can reach 35m in height. Pukatea has breathing roots called pneumatophores above the ground to take in air for the waterlogged root system below. Tiny green flowers grow between October and November on stalks up to 3cm long. After flowering it develops urn shaped seed cases up to 2.5cm long, which split releasing hair-covered seeds that are dispersed by the wind. An extract from the bark containing the alkaloid pukateine is used in traditional Māori herbal medicine as an analgesic.
Tarawera | Button FernPellaea rotundifolia, the button fern, is a species of fern found only in New Zealand, where it grows in scrub and forests. It is also a popular garden and house plant. It has been found to contain an insecticide (phytoecdysones) which is toxic to the larvae of the common house fly.
Makawe | Hanging SpleenwortAsplenium flaccidum, or hanging spleenwort as it’s commonly known, grows from coastal to montane areas. It is usually found growing from the trunks of trees and tree ferns in the bush. Its limp, dull green, hanging fronds reach up to 1m in length and are thick and leathery to touch. This fern is one of a large, distinctive genus of about 20 species in New Zealand.
Huruhuru or Paretao | Shining SpleenwortAsplenium oblongifolium, commonly known as shining spleenwort, has glossy dark green fronds that can reach about 1.5m in length when growing in optimum conditions of open, shaded parts of the forest. In some environments it can be a highly dominant plant in the forest understory. It is found only in New Zealand and the Kermadec Islands, growing on the ground and also in trees.
Mokimoki | Fragant FernThis climbing fern has a thin creeping rhizome, or stem. As a juvenile it grows on the ground with thin dull single green fronds. When it starts to climb trees it develops adult fronds, which are divided. The lumps on the upper surface of the fronds are the sori (spore pouches), the spores can be seen on the underside. It can be found in coastal to lowland forests in damp conditions creeping on the ground or climbing trees. Its common name, fragrant fern, comes from its pleasantly scented fronds. Māori used mokimoki for perfume and for scenting oils.
Kiwakiwa | Creek FernBlechnum fluviatile is a symmetrical fern like a starfish, with ladder-like fronds. Growing in a distinctive ground-hugging rosette shape, its fertile fronds (dark brown and spiky) stand upright from the centre, while the drooping sterile fronds with their nearly round leaflets form the rosette. As the parent plant ages it develops a short trunk central to a surrounding colony. It is a hardy small common ground fern which requires moist, shaded conditions for optimal growth. Kiwakiwa is native to New Zealand and southeast Australia and occurs throughout much of New Zealand’s forests. Māori chewed kiwakiwa fronds to cure mouth and tongue pain and ulcers.
Leather Leaf FernEndemic to New Zealand, this climbing fern is found throughout the country. It can grow on the ground, however is more commonly seen climbing as an epiphyte on tree trunks, rocks, and urban structures. It has a long creeping rhizome or stem, with unusual leathery thick tongue shaped fronds. These fronds are smooth edged and don’t look like typical ferns at all. The undersides of the fronds are covered in fine hairs that stop dehydration during dry weather.
Petipeti | Crown FernBlechnum refers to the family of ferns this one hails from, while discolor refers to the contrasting greens displayed on the fronds. Crown ferns are found throughout New Zealand and can become the dominant vegetation on the forest floor. Like all Blechnum ferns, it has separate fertile and sterile fronds. Māori wrapped kiore (polynesian rat) in petipeti fronds for hangi cooking. They bent over the fronds to use as track markers – their pale undersides are visible even at night.
Piupiu | Gully FernPneumatopteris pennigera is a native tufted ground fern which sometimes develops a small, slender trunk. It grows along streams and damp gullies in very shaded areas, hence it’s common name of gully fern. It can be found throughout the North Island, the western side of the South Island, Three Kings Islands and the Chatham Islands. It also grows in south eastern Australia. Māori used piupiu fronds for wrapping hangi food. Young fronds were eaten as greens.
Kowaowao | Hound’s Tongue FernMicrosorum pustulatum is often epiphytic, meaning it grows harmlessly upon other plants usually trees. This fern is native to Australia and New Zealand and is common in coastal to montane areas. Hound’s tongue fern, or kowaowao, has thick rhizomes (stems) that you can see climbing up trees, usually in slightly drier places. It gets its common name from the shape of the young fronds which resemble a panting dog’s tongue. Māori used kowaowao to line and cover baskets in which hīnau meal and tawa kernels were cooked as it gave a pleasant flavour. The young stems were cooked and eaten as greens.
Pikopiko | Hen and Chicken FernHen and chicken fern gets its common name from its production of bulbils (chicken) on the upper side of the fronds (hen). These bulbils fall from the parent plant, take root in the soil and grow into new ferns. Only seven of New Zealand’s ferns are edible. The pikopiko fern tips are one of these, and are known as bush asparagus. Pale green with brown speckles, they are eaten as a vegetable. Māori used the fronds for bedding, the roots were eaten, and an infusion of the roots was drunk to treat skin diseases. The young tips were a favourite kinaki (relish) for potatoes.
Ngā mahi taurima
Animal pest control
Although priorities and methods have changed over time, conservation efforts in Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge have always aimed to protect, restore and enhance the biodiversity values in this special place. Ultimately, this means reducing pest species to allow native flora and fauna to thrive. The unique geology and geography of Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge presents significant challenges to conservation efforts. The steep terrain means parts of the forest cannot safely be accessed on foot, and wind channels through the Gorge make aerial access precarious. The current collaborative approach to management of Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge means that resources and expertise are shared to ensure the best possible outcomes for conservation.
Animal pests include possums, rats, mustelids (weasels, stoats and ferrets), goats and deer. The Department of Conservation and Horizons Regional Council coordinate animal pest control. Goats have been eradicated from the scenic reserve, but deer still occasionally pass through. Possums, rats and stoats are the biggest problem today. Traps targeting rats and stoats on both sides of the Gorge are monitored by volunteers from the Ashhurst Action group and Milson Scouts. There is also a bait station network on the southern side of the Gorge to target possums and rats using pesticides (cyanide for possums, diphacinone for rats). Success is measured by monitoring possum and rat numbers. The Department of Conservation has also recently introduced an annual ‘Five minute bird count’ to help index native bird populations.
The long-term conservation goal for Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is to reduce pest populations and restore forest health to a level that would allow the safe and sustainable reintroduction of native species that once lived in the Gorge, such as toutouwai (North Island robin).
Plant pest control
Pest plants are a serious threat to native habitats such as the Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge. Ranging from vines and trees to shrubs, these invasive pests kill, smother and replace native vegetation. The Gorge offers a wide range of ideal habitats for these pests to thrive in, resulting in many weed species being established here. The challenging topography and conditions make control work difficult. Pest plant control in Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is managed by Horizons Regional Council, and they have programmes to tackle pest plants in a number of ways.
Old man’s beard is the biggest threat to the forest canopy, and targeted annual control is ongoing. Banana passionfruit and wilding pines are also being controlled where possible. Biocontrol agents have also been released to target specific pest plants. The Honshu white admiral butterfly was released in summer 2019 to suppress Japanese honeysuckle. Tradescantia leaf mining beetles were released in 2017. The broom gall mite is well established in the area and is looking very promising. Biocontrol agents are continually being researched and developed as an option for landscape-scale weed infestations.
Most of the pest plants infiltrating our native landscapes are garden escapees, so you can help by disposing of garden waste properly. You can do this by taking your green waste to an approved landfill, covering your load with a tarpaulin, or through composting. Never dump your green waste near reserves or natural areas – even if the green parts rot away, new plants may grow and spread. Find out more and get resources on the Weedbusters website.