Te Mara Bush – 20 November 2016

Te Mara Bush, 20 November 2016

In March 1944, the milling company C.E. Daniell Ltd of Masterton was running out of logs. The company applied for access to a block in the Te Mara Basin within State forest 31 north of Masterton, and suggested that the Forest Service could replant it with exotic trees as at nearby Mikimiki.

After inspecting the 350 acres of beech, rimu, rata and kamahi forest—which needed a three mile access road—the Conservator of Forests recommended against logging. However Director of Forestry Alex Entrican, also the government’s Timber Controller with the job of keeping mills open, wrote: ‘… the forest is now mature and the large trees should be utilised before they begin to deteriorate.’ He approved the application and informed the local bodies and Chamber of Commerce. All suggested that Entrican consult the Wairarapa Catchment Board, which had been elected under new legislation but had not yet met.

When the proposal became public, resistance soon appeared. Catchment Board member Laurie Robinson wrote to Entrican: ‘far too much of our watershed has been depleted already, when this area is stripped of trees down to 15 inches what then? … The people of Masterton are deeply concerned …’. The Wairarapa Times-Age published editorials and a torrent of letters. One correspondent had visited the area and found all millable trees blazed ready for the axe. A returned serviceman wrote: ‘The Te Mara Forest is tranquil and cool and green and you can find peace there and somehow it stands for everything we longed for in the sweltering desert and now it seems all that beauty is to go’. From ‘Forest Lover’ came: ‘With a prodigal disregard for the future, we have denuded our country of native bush to such an extent that erosion is becoming rampant, and we are being compelled to retreat ever further back into the high country to obtain essential timber supplies.’ A minority favoured logging. ‘Be reasonable’ wrote: ‘When I see the State houses in Masterton and know how many people are wanting them, well I say let’s get more State houses. And to do this we must have timber … ’

The first meeting of the Catchment Board discussed the Te Mara hot potato for two and a half hours. Uncertain of its powers and feeling its way, the Board concluded that logging was inevitable but hoped that conditions would be ‘rigidly enforced’.


In late July, the MP for Wairarapa inspected the Te Mara area with a delegation that included Masterton Tramping Club member Ben Iorns. As a builder and returned serviceman Iorns understood the need for timber and supported the government’s housing projects, but he now resigned as an honorary forest ranger. ‘…I feel no honour or pride in further association with a Service so obviously out of step with public opinion; the puny efforts of a hundred honorary Rangers would not counter-balance such a mass destruction as is contemplated at Te Mara Creek.’ He suggested to the Commissioner of Forests that burial caskets—which consumed annually a third of the projected yield from Te Mara—should be made instead of fibrous plaster.

A well-attended public meeting in Masterton received messages of protest from organisations throughout Wairarapa and carried a resolution against the Te Mara logging. In September, a deputation of six (including Mayor Kemp, Iorns and Robinson) met Prime Minister Peter Fraser and Commissioner of Forests C.F. Skinner. Entrican (in attendance) explained that the bush at Te Mara was badly eaten out by deer and that the only way of re-establishing it was to open it for milling. Fraser said he preferred the timber to be used for housing rather than allowed to rot, and suggested an inspection.

Within days Skinner visited Te Mara with the deputation, who first showed him erosion of the banks of the lower Waipoua River, allegedly caused by logging at Mikimiki (still in progress) and Kiriwhakapapa. Skinner was unconvinced of the erosion risk, but acknowledged the beauty of the large rimu at Te Mara and recommended that some be reserved. A 66 acre reserve, including a rimu seven feet in diameter, was delineated in March 1945. Logging went ahead and continued until 1954.

The three mile (five km) access road runs through a property now farmed by Jason Christensen. The logged area lies within what is now Tararua Forest Park.

On Sunday 20 November Jason guided us through the Te Mara Basin and showed us the remains of logging activity. We thank him and the owners of two neighbouring properties through which we passed.

Those on the walk came from a variety of groups:

South Wairarapa TC

Masterton TC

Friends of Mana

NZ Alpine Club

Local farmers

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