Hereweka climb offers place for contemplation

Hereweka Harbour Cone is visible for miles and features in many artworks. PHOTOS: CLAIRE FRASER
Hereweka Harbour Cone is visible for miles and features in many artworks. PHOTOS: CLAIRE FRASER
There’s history — geologic and more recent — in a walk up one of the city’s great landmarks.

This walk takes you back to the past, but starts off in the future.

It all begins at harbour level, at the end of Bacon St, just past Turnbulls Bay.

First of all you’re greeted by an intriguing hand-made sign pointing down a pixie pathway to a ‘‘Future Forest Walk’’. These days the forest is in its babyhood, 9000 native trees planted through a gully and up the hillside beyond.

Hereweka Harbour Cone walk.
Hereweka Harbour Cone walk.
Most heartwarmingly, it’s a conservation project of the community group, Save the Otago Peninsula (STOP), soon celebrating 40 years. All are welcome to join tree planting days, on Tuesdays and Sundays from 9.30am. You’re also free to wander through and admire this exciting investment in the future. As is your doggie, within the fenced area.

Loop back to the yellow-tipped marker poles passing the mature results of STOP’s restoration of Smith’s Creek. These days there must be generations of happy native whitebait and eels spending part of their life in there.

Outside the lambing season of September 1 until November 1 you are free to continue on the full route across farmland, up to the cone. Naturally, Rover and friends are prohibited.

There’s a daunting view up the side of the cone to be climbed. Cross the road, fully warmed up and ready to give it some grunt. The going gets tough, but that’s when the tough get going.

Sticking up like a witch’s hat, Hereweka is visible for miles and is the photogenic model for some famous art.

Hereweka and its weka were part of the healing of a very early peninsula inhabitant. Tarewai was the nephew of the first known Kai Tahu ancestor to arrive in Otago. He lived during a tumultuous time as recent immigrants and previous waves mixed and mingled.

It’s a tough climb up the side of Hereweka, but the views are well worth it.
It’s a tough climb up the side of Hereweka, but the views are well worth it.
Tarewai had been invited by another people, Kati Mamoe, to today’s Pyramids at Okia Reserve, to help build a house for the hosts. In the evening there were playful wrestling games which suddenly turned nasty when Tarewai was held down and had his stomach cut open. Amazingly, he escaped, leaving behind his mere (weapon) in the rush. Hereweka became his hideout as he rested and recuperated, healing his wounds with weka fat.

He recovered but needed his weapon back. So he quietly returned to the Kati Mamoe village where one night people were sitting around the fire admiring his mere. To disguise his identity in the dark, Tarewai mimicked the villagers’ speech pattern so he appeared local, was handed his own weapon and ran off into the night.

Post-Pakeha settlement, the area hosted small family dairy holdings. Each clump of macrocarpas marks a settlement site. Such steep, erosion-prone land must have made dairy farming pretty hard.

The Hereweka Harbour Cone Trust, in partnership with the Dunedin City Council, manages the area now, hosting a field day and an annual public hike at the end of each February.

The start of the walk loops around Future Forest Walk.
The start of the walk loops around Future Forest Walk.
Before any of our human involvement, Harbour Cone began life as one of the basalt lava flows of the massive extinct Dunedin volcano. Long, wide views from its top make it ideal for contemplation.

But contemplate this — in the early 1980s there was a proposal to cut two shafts into the side of the cone to mine gold. It’s embedded in the rock which would have meant open pit mining. Which would have meant a 24 hour, 7 days operation, complete with noise and dust. And a four-lane highway.

STOP objected, but the court ruled that the operation may go ahead. Fortunately, Harbour Cone, its biodiversity and the peninsula’s integrity was saved by the fact the operation was eventually deemed uneconomic. These days the most hardcore digging is the trust’s tree planting and University of Otago archaeology students delving down.

Making a loop walk of it, follow the poles down the westerly flank of the cone. You’ll walk on one of the old, steep dairy-farming roads down past an old ruin, the Allan farmstead and forge complex. Across the road the track continues down a fenceline, making a beeline back to the start.

 - Clare Fraser

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