Visitors to the eastern side of Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge will be greeted by Te Hononga Maunga, a carved entrance at the Ballance Bridge carpark designed to provide blessing and safe passage to all who pass by.
Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua kaumātua Manahi Paewai will bless the carvings in a dawn ceremony on Monday morning, prior to the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage joining Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge Governance Group members for a ribbon cutting event at 10am.
Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge Governance Group and Horizons Regional Council chair Bruce Gordon says that in addition to the carving ceremony, the Minister has been invited to see some of the work being done to enhance the biodiversity, recreational, educational and cultural values of the Gorge.
“The Gorge Governance Group was established in 2016, formalising a collaboration of various organisations that had been underway for over a decade. This project work has helped contribute to the overall experience for approximately 70,000 visitors per year,” says Mr Gordon.
“The Group is working to secure finances to deliver work programmes that contribute to a long-term vision.
“Funding for work programmes primarily comes from contributions from the Department of Conservation, Horizons Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council, Manawatu District Council, Tararua District Council, KiwiRail and the NZ Transport Agency.
“Through the partnership of councils, iwi, DOC and landowners the Group has completed biodiversity management and health and safety plans, as well as successfully securing $105,800 of central government funding towards installing larger toilet blocks at both ends of the popular visitor destination and $100,000 towards targeting invasive weeds within the Gorge.
“On the ground work for pest plant and animal control is continuing to contribute to improved biodiversity, and we are investigating the possibility of reintroducing native species previously found in the area.
“Recent developments to increase recreational user experience include a walking bridge upgrade at the eastern end of the 11km Manawatū Gorge track, plant identification signage along the entire length to help educate visitors about the special flora, including the rare maidenhair fern, that live in Te Apiti, and the Te Ara o Mahurangi Mountain Bike Trail.
“The popular Tawa Loop track at the western end of the Gorge is scheduled to receive an extensive upgrade in Autumn 2019.
“Wider work is also underway to plan for future enhancement, including proposed new visitor facilities and recreational trails to complement the Te Ahu a Turagana: Manawatū Tararua Highway construction on the northern side of the Gorge.
“Having carvings at both entrances to the popular Gorge walks has always been part of our vision for enhancing the cultural value of the site. The carvings have been a number of years in the making and we are fortunate to have had access to the services of Rangitāne carver Craig Kawana.”
Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua kaumātua Manahi Paewai says the name Te Hononga Maunga refers to the unique position of the Gorge between two mountain ranges and was a revered place to Rangitāne.
“Rangitāne people, who reside both east and west of Te Apiti would recite karakia (prayers) when travelling through to invoke safe passage,” says Mr Paewai.
“These carvings, amongst other things, represent karakia for those who visit. They are also sister carvings to the ones at the Ashhurst entrance so regardless of whether you do a return trip from one side, or walk from one end to the other, visitors are blessed at the beginning and end of their journey.”
Signage at the site provides an explanation of the carvings’ history. Further signage highlighting particular aspects of the carvings, including guardians, ancestors and unique patterns to Rangitāne, will be added in early 2019.
Following the ribbon cutting event Minister Sage will head to Te Waha o te Kurī, Ferry Reserve to hear from members of the Manawatū River Leaders’ Accord about work underway to protect and enhance the Manawatū River and catchment, of which the Gorge is a special feature.