Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park

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On the outskirts of Hamilton, Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park (WHNP) is an award-winning, inter-generational ecological restoration project.

Established in 2004, the long-term aim of Waiwhakareke is to reconstruct the natural forest, wetland and lake ecosystems present in pre-European times. Intensive predator control will allow vulnerable species to flourish in an urban environment and spill over to other parts of the city.

The 60-hectare park will serve as a focus for Hamilton’s wider biodiversity restoration, including lakes and lakeshores, the Waikato River, its banks and unique gullies, and other parks with current or potential natural values (estimated to be 750 hectares). It will bring our natural and cultural heritage to within easy reach of New Zealand’s largest inland city, and reconnect current and future generations with their environment through enhanced education, outreach and engagement opportunities. 

As the park adjoins the Hamilton Zoo, the existing education and wildlife protection programmes can be refocused and expanded. A central hub will enable development of a common arrival space with shared facilities. 

Thousands of hours of volunteer effort and scientific study have seen the return of rare plants and wildlife to the project area, creating a rich environmental, educational and recreational experience for visitors.

The result of a strong partnership between Waikato University, Wintec, Tui 2000 and Hamilton City Council, Waiwhakareke is managed by the Council's Parks and Open Spaces Unit.

The name Waiwhakareke translates as (wai) water (whakareke) to plunge a pole.

Waiwhakareke has a rich history. In pre-European times the land was a popular transport corridor for Maori seeking stone or taking their goods to trade across the Tasman Sea. Ngati Koura, Ngati Ruru and Ngati Ngamurikaitaua all have links to the area, some dating back more than 800 years. 

The forests and wetland at Waiwhakareke provided a place for food and resource gathering for Maori. Totara, matai, kauri, flax and raupo were collected for use as building materials, textiles and rope, while plants such as hinau, kahikatea, miro and raupo were collected for food (berries and pollen). Birds which fed on the trees were also snared and trapped by Maori, while fish, eel and duck were caught from the lake.

From the 1820s European settlers began arriving in the area paving the way for the land clearances of the 1860s. Maori activity continued in the area, particularly gum digging and the removal of Kauri from the swamps for use as waka (canoes). Over the next 40-50 years – particularly following European confiscation of Maori land after the Land Wars of the 1860s - drainage of the peat wetland increased. The draining of the wetlands allowed pastoral farming to establish on the land and it continues today.

Up until the Council purchased the area in 1975, the lake was not fenced off and was used  for swimming by children and also as a shortcut through the area via canoe. Mushroom collecting from the surrounding paddocks was common in autumn.

​The area containing Waiwhakareke formally came into the city in November 1989, and the boundaries of the city's urban areas have expanded toward WHNP in recent years​.

Page reviewed: 06 Apr 2016 1:03pm