I come from the people of Ngāti Hako. We are the original people of Hauraki, and the Hauraki Plains has been our homeland for generations.
We know the plains as our cultural landscape. We call it Tikarahi. And Tikarahi was a wetland system that began at Miranda and went all the way to the back of Waitoa. The land was significant for our people. We had marae, cultivations, just a whole network that worked across the wetland system.
The wetland itself used to be a huge swamp. Forest: kahikatea, tōtara, swamp maire. Just a thriving ecosystem. The area is between two mountain ranges: the Coromandel Range, that we call Te Paeroa-o-Toi or Te Pae-nga-roa o Toi te Huatahi; and Te Hapū-a-Kohe. And of course in the back is the Kaimai Range.
With the arrival of non-Māori to our shores, so too came the changes, where the first lot of people that came cut down our forest for the masts of their ships, then the kahikatea stands were used for butter boxes. In a very short time, the swampland and all the things within it became no more. At the turn of the century, the 1900s, the idea of draining swamp and creating dry land began. Our ancestors took strong opposition to the drainage in a number of forms of protest, such as moving survey pegs, however, the repo (swamps) were drained.
We truly believe that nature is trying to correct what has happened. We believe nature should take its own course. We believe it’s going to go underwater anyway. There is climate change, but the biggest reason is we don’t have enough vegetation on the hills and land, and the peat’s going to keep sinking. These flood lands are supposed to be a filter system but have nothing growing on them.
Not everyone thinks like us; there aren’t enough voices in opposition. So we try to get gains for Tikarahi. With the creation of a new flood protection system, Muggeridge’s, near Ngātea, we will create what I call pods, a glance of the vast wetland system we had in the past and which shows the interaction between plants, birds, fish. The pods are 100 metres in length and 20m in width. They are reasonable and doable. We will create 10 pods alongside the channel for Muggeridge’s pump station. All the plants we use for the creation of the pods will be sourced from Tikarahi, grown by the people of Tikarahi, and they will care for the people of Tikarahi. Through this process we hope we will see a remnant of our ancestor.
We know we are not the only ones on the land but there needs to be a balance between what the whenua (land) can do and economic outcomes. We all live in these towns and flood protection is part of the norm. And the other part of the norm is the restoration of the amazing flood land, and so we continue to strive for that.
The opportunity is there for farmers or community groups to put pods like this on their land, too. We believe the responsibility belongs to all of the community.
The Hauraki Plains was cleared of its swamp forest when the settlers arrived. Now just a few remnants of kahikatea remain.
"We all live in these towns and flood protection is part of the norm. And the other part of the norm is the restoration of the amazing flood land, and so we continue to strive for that."
Wetlands are important habitat for our native fish and bird species, such as longfin eel and Australasian bittern.