Cape Brett

April 23, 2018

Winding along the steep hills and ridges of this rugged peninsula, the Cape Brett walk is not for the faint-hearted. It therefore came as a relief that the weather played ball on the weekend (in mid-April) that my wife and I marched out to the craggy headlands on the Bay of Islands’ eastern margins.

Other than the spectacular coastal landscape, the major drawcard for me was to view a tree that we have specified in a great deal of jobs, yet had never seen in the wild – Nestegis apetala (or coastal maire). As can be seen from the image below, this extremely resilient species often assumes a gnarled growth form that is reminiscent of the tortuous branching structure that pohutukawa frequently develops.

An entirely unexpected pleasure awaited us on the final major ascent over Cape Brett to the lighthouse, where the old lighthouse keepers’ house serves as the DoC hut in which we stayed for the night. Despite having read that such colour forms exist, I had never seen an orange-flowered Parsonsia. The specimen pictured below (of P. capsularis var. grandiflora) was not an isolated variant, as I found other plants with orange flowers in the vicinity.

The canopy of kanuka forest (which is punctuated below by a large specimen of Nestegis apetala) was illuminated brightly by the late afternoon light, serving to amplify the effect of its ‘graphic’ branching structure and the shadows of the understorey. Pockets of older-growth coastal forest (including species such as tawaroa, puriri and coastal maire) endure amongst the kanuka at various points along these outer parts of the peninsula, seemingly responding well to pest control efforts by DoC and Nga Whenua Rahui.

In various habitats along the peninsula, ranging from the understorey of kanuka woodland to the open clifftop shrubland shown below, a northern species of hebe that we have used in several projects (Hebe ligustrifolia) was in bloom at the time of our trip. The flowers on this species have a particularly attractive, pale lilac hue, whilst the leaves have a recessive, yellowish-green colour that can serve as a muted contrast against brighter greens within plantings (especially in shaded situations).

The much more subtle charms of hedgehog grass (Echinopogon ovatus; shown below) are likely to appeal to a far smaller demographic; one that evidently includes me. This wispy grass is part of a suite of dryland grasses and diminutive herbs that one seldom sees in the kinds of associations that would have previously been significantly more widespread – due to the spread of aggressive exotic grasses such as kikuyu.

In early stages of the walk, hedgehog grass mingled with Microlaena stipoides, a delicate species of Lagenophora and other ethereal characters at the side of the track Рgoing some way to validate the virtue of the entire 7.5 hour trek, as opposed to the easier option of catching a water taxi in and out.

On the second day, we had already planned the shorter return route of a water taxi from Deep Water Cove, thereby enabling me to spend a little more time taking in details such as this Pimelea – which looked to be P. urvilleana (although the entire business of opining about Pimelea spp. occasionally makes me break out in a cold sweat these days). This attractive sprawling species grows in the midst of carpets of Leucopogon fraseri and low shrubs of kanuka and manuka on a windblasted hillside; just one of the plethora of habitats that make this peninsula a fascinating and beautiful outpost of our northern coastline.