round central Westland gold-mining has
devastated much of the land. Once-fertile riverflats worked over by gold dredges are now
piled high with vast heaps of useless boulders and tailings. The land here lies stripped
and ruined. Decades have done little to disguise the scars of their handiwork and
centuries will do little more. Nothing much remains now of the colour of the gold rush
except in such place names as Notown, Deadmans Flat, Candlelight, Nil Desperandum,
Swipers and Pretty Woman.
In the many areas where there are no farms or old goldfields, the bush
stretches up from the lowlands to the hills in a green carpet and seems as untouched and
untrammelled as when the tangata whenua first arrived. This is not so. Dead rata and other
trees such as kamahi can be seen clearly from any vantage point - victims of Westland's
share of our estimated 60 - 70,000,000 possums. Pigs, deer and goats wander unchecked over
vast areas destroying saplings and regenerating undergrowth.
The forests that once rang with birdsong are now too often silent, the
birds having fallen victim to cats, rats and stoats and one is only too aware that even
with the best will in the world and even with unremitting effort and limitless finances
nothing can ever again be as it once was.
It is as William Pember Reeves wrote in 'The Passing of the Forest':
Gone are the forest birds, arboreal things,
Eaters of honey, honey-sweet of song,
The tui and the bell-bird - he who sings
That brief, rich music we would fain prolong,
Gone the wood-pigeon's sudden whirr of wings;
The daring robin, all unused to wrong.
Wild, harmless, hamadryad creatures, they
Lived with their trees, and died, and passed away.
It was to the areas so popular with the miners that the Maori also once
came for greenstone. Rivers between the Hokitika River and Greymouth were particularly
prized for the greenstone that they yielded. The Taramakau River had in pre-Pakeha days a
jade-working site near the river mouth. It produced large quantities of jade in a variety
of types and quantities, including some of the prized kawakawa and inanga varieties, and
many artifacts have turned up here as a byproduct of dredging operations.
The Arahua field produced a paler jade, more of the type favoured by
Chinese, and the strong green kawakawa variety is not so often found here. Many hundreds
of tons have been found here too, both by Maori and Pakeha prospectors.
The Pakeha prospectors who came to this area were a more pragmatic lot
than the pioneers of Canterbury and Nelson and had less time for the fripperies of
civilisation such as hunting and gardening, so fine old exotic trees such as those that
grace many parts of the east coast are mostly absent here.
Instead, many of the exotic trees to be seen here date from 1932 when
the steamer Abel Tasman, carrying a consignment of trees from New Plymouth to
Australia, was wrecked at the mouth of the Grey River. Large numbers of trees were sold to
the locals at one shilling each. One exotic tree that does date from much earlier,
probably from the days of the goldrush, is a common lime just outside of Arahura, which is
regarded by tree fanciers as the best example in the Southern Hemisphere.