Wainui Water Collection Area: A Free Guided Tour

*Nov ’16 (update): This post comprises the beginnings of my volunteering career with ‘Greater Wellington’.  Basically, I buddy’d-up with one of the fabulous volunteers on this tour, met the ranger and really liked him too, and decided to tag-along on a regular basis.

I’ve since been into the heart of the ‘Mainland Island’ that I mention in this piece, and my first official “gig” as a volunteer involved exploring this total taonga-of-a-place at night-time, with glow-worms and everything.

So – and I say this without a hint of bias, truly – I encourage you to get involved in our 2016 summer events’ series.  They’re pretty cool, ow.

Did something pretty unique and special today.

I experienced my first-ever free guided-tour with our ‘Greater Wellington Regional Council’ (also: ‘Te Pane Matua Taiao’, hereafter “GWRC”), and got to explore an area of my home-town that’s usually off-limits to leisure hikers like me.

A good-sized group of us spent the best part of 4 hours exploring the access-restricted Wainuiomata Water Collection Area (you guessed it, in Wainui), with an excellent tour guide and some fab-as volunteers.

With their powers combined, the factoids and tid-bits flew thick and fast, and I think it’s fair to say we all learned heaps.

I certainly did, and right at this moment I feel incredibly satisfied with all my new bits of info.  So I’d like to officially send my sincerest thanks and gratitude into the blogosphere, should anybody from today’s team of GWRC peeps happen to read this post.  You, whānau, do a fantastic job, and we are very lucky to have you all.

Okay, so: where did you go and what did you learn, Intrepid Māori(?), I hear you ask.

Well, I now know that there are 2 rivers that feed this catchment valley (*Wainuiomata, and Orongorongo), and that the water that’s collected here supplies approximately 15% of greater Wellington’s water requirements, which equates to around 60 million litres per day.

Yup, you just read that.

60.  Million.  Litres.

And that’s a mere 15% of the total sum.

Seems excessive, eh?  But it’s not, it’s the real-deal and apparently there are also constraints around how much can actually be extracted from either river; basically, they’re not allowed to get too low on our behalf (would be catastrophic, to say the least).  This is why such a massive emphasis and drive are placed upon lessening public water usage and consumption (in whichever way this happens) over our summer months, when we are more susceptible to drought/s and stuff.


So our first stop was at George’s Creek, to get a feel for exactly how all this water gets collected.  And it’s simple, really – a small, strategically-placed weir allows water to flow through this catchment area so that it passes over a metal grate, thus sifting-out any large pieces of unwanted river debris.

Clever, eh.

This is also where I met and fell madly in love with the rewarewa tree…

Those leaves, that flower; stole my heart in 5 seconds flat.

As for sneaky-old rātā, not so much.

Did you know that rātā trees are actually hollow, because they wrap themselves around other trees and steal their living space/s?  When they do this, they totally grow with said other tree inside them (let’s call them a “host”, for argument’s sake), and eventually this host dies, thus rendering rātā’s trunk completely hollow.

I’m told that no-one really knows for certain whether rātā trees kill their host trees, or if they just happen to outlive them.  Either way, karma’s a complete douche, and the fact that they are hollow simply makes them more prone to falling over.

Bet there are a few former host trees who have a good giggle over that, in spirit.

I didn’t bother photographing any rātā (truth be told, I was far too busy loving-up all the rewarewa), but you get the picture (pun absolutely intended).  And, I figure if you really, desperately want to see one right now you’ll pretty much just click here, or here.

Too easy.

Something else of interest that I heard multiple times today was the kupu “epiphyte”.  You may well want to know about these, particularly if you don’t already and you’re a keen bush-walker, leisure hiker, or tramper.

These guys are also colloquially and/or casually referred to as “widowmakers”, because they’re actually quite dangerous.  If you look up at the top canopy next time you’re out in the forest you’ll most likely see an epiphyte (or five) perched in the highest branches of any number of our native tree species.  And the thing about them that’s deadly is their tendency to fall out of said highest branches and connect with the poor unsuspecting human passer-by.

Not ideal, and not okay.

What’s more, had today’s wind/s picked-up and become too ridiculous, we may well have called-off our walk early.

All because of the epiphytes, and their potential atrocities.

Once again – mind blown.

Epiphyte spotting.  Basically looking at those big things that look like nests.

Equally mind-blowing is how thoroughly preserved the area’s historical human influence is.  You don’t need to look particularly hard to find the various signs and totems, either.

I found that this simply added to the appeal of the place, and that the many human touches weren’t difficult to digest.

They prompted me to stop and stare, to pause and to ponder, and I liked that a lot.

Old trespassers’ notice.
Entrance to the pipeline tunnel.  40+ metres in, it turns to bare rock.
Hemp and tar (mostly tar).  Used to join water-pipes together.

A quick comment about the tunnel, if I may…

Apparently, when this was active somebody lived there full-time, and part of their job involved scooting on down in there and checking the intake water’s consistency to ensure the stuff was safe to use – and consume, and shift-on to other parts of Wellington, and so-forth.

Established in 1924, you can imagine how these things might have been carried-out way back then.

Quick look and a taste-test, maybe??

Of course I’m merely speculating, and really “just saying”.

On another note, there’s a part of this catchment valley which remains spectacularly untouched by humans: the ‘Mainland Island’.  I don’t have any photos (we were not allowed to visit).  In actual fact, I confess to never even knowing about this at all, despite growing up in the valley and feeling like a real product of the place.

Apparently I’m not as “in-the-know” as I’d assumed.

Go figure.

Anyway, a publication by GWRC refers to the Mainland Island as:

‘An intensive restoration project of 1,200 hectares, with some of the best native forest in New Zealand’s lower North Island.  Particularly notable are the large rātā, rimu, and mataī, and the presence of a mānuka fen wetland.  The primary objective of the Island is to support the existing ecosystem by enhancing indigenous flora and fauna, re-introducing select species where possible, controlling pests, and restricting community involvement and/or visitation’.

I can’t really say much else, other than to mention the pest control that goes into this whole Mainland Island enterprise, and how immense and intense this all sounded.  There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and stuff dug into those hills, I feel.  Mad-as props to all the hard-working conservationists and earth-lovers who do the hard volunteer yards on the ground.  We certainly all know who isn’t, and my sincerest hope is that he gets voted-out in the next election.

Like any good jaunt should be, the end of our tour was punctuated by a cool and refreshing creek crossing (back through George’s Creek – both feet received a fair dunking), and a view of the Catchment Valley from the top of Morton Dam.

Mini hydro discharge pipe/channel to George’s Creek.  Swells can hit 3+ metres when she’s full.

I finished feeling as though all my own proverbial, excursion-related “boxes” had been noted, and sufficiently checked-off – particularly in terms of nature, history, photographic opportunities, and inspiring and stimulating conversation.

Keen?  Then here’s where you need to register your interest by email and book, because if today’s anything to go by she’s one seriously popular event, and GWRC do cap group numbers (*sensibly, and purely for safety reasons).

The people are lovely (*grins*), and the walk’s a stunner.  Get amongst the goodness.

‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’ (or: “Go well, and return safely”);


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