Rattling across the Hairini Bridge, a common sight for drivers is the camera-bedecked folk peering over the western side of the bridge at the wooden trestles below. They're checking out the progress of the young chicks that hatch there each summer.
Despite the heavy traffic passing by only metres away, a flock of white-fronted terns has made the bridge into home, settling there a few years ago and raising their young. This is an extraordinary situation, as most colonies are located in coastal spots, quite remote from urban populations.
The Tauranga Hairini Bridge colony has the most accessible tern population in New Zealand.
The bridge, intended to connect Tauranga with the southern side of the Bay of Plenty, was completed in 1882.
At the time it was the largest structure of its kind in the country.
The birds nest among the original bridge piling, and also in a specially constructed nest on one of the old abutments.
Photographers and bird enthusiasts come from all over the country between December and February to get up-close photos of the birds, as they are nesting during that time.
The eggs can be easily seen, and the young chicks are cute and fluffy. It's also accessible for walkers and cyclists who stop mid-bridge to check out the progress of the nests and chicks below.
The Hairini Bridge has had a population of up to about 50 white-fronted terns, although numbers seem to have dropped down to about 30 this year. And there's a white-faced heron sitting quietly on top of a pile.
The nesting habitat for the terns was reconstructed about five years ago, when the bridge's wooden piling framing moved in a storm.
The reconstruction was considered a success, as the number of birds and nesting pairs increased each year.
During the January 2018 storm, the colony was fortunate to be protected somewhat from the high waves causing havoc for cars on the eastern side by the bridge itself.
During 2017, one of the fluffy chicks was killed by a rock deliberately thrown from the bridge. There was wide-spread community outrage that anyone would do this.
Prior to that, in 2014, the death of three white-fronted terns at the Turret Road bridge site was also considered to be a result of foul play. At the time it raised concerns amongst bird experts about the future of the birds on the bridge, as entire colonies can be abandoned as a result of such upheavals.
The birds overcame that and continued breeding.
White-fronted terns are native to New Zealand, and are the most common tern on the NZ coastline. Their conservation status shows a declining population.
The name “white-fronted” refers to the “frons” or forehead, where a thin strip of white separates the black cap from the black bill.
Once the Maungatapu bypass is completed, the future of the white-fronted terns will remain uncertain as any widening of Turret Road may impact on what is planned for Hairini Bridge.
The Elms Te Papa Tauranga has begun 2018 with the outstanding news that the garden has received a prestigious honour. The New Zealand Gardens Trust has registered it as a “Garden of Significance” with a five-star rating.
“What makes this achievement so special is the illustrious company with whom we share our rating,” says The Elms Foundation manager Andrew Gregg, “including the Kerikeri and Pompallier Missions, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Olveston Historic Home and Government House in Auckland and Wellington”.
The Elms is one of the oldest New Zealand European gardens south of the Bay of Islands. It was originally created by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), between 1834 and 1844, as were The Treaty House gardens at Waitangi. Both The Elms Te Papa Tauranga and The Treaty House Gardens retain some of the insitu, Maori and European cultivated vegetation with considerable archaeological landscape content. The landscape archaeology is now perhaps the most valuable resource to be preserved for understanding more fully the history of this place.
When Te Papa Mission Station first opened, the peninsula was covered with manuka and fern, without trees for beauty, shade or firewood.
However, Alfred and Charlotte Brown soon got to work and enjoyed gardening in the favourable Tauranga conditions. Brown's journal is full of references to gardening: “planting out lettuces, pruning 32 fruit trees, planting out cuttings, sowing peas and beans, preparing and planting raspberry bed, transplanting trees”.
Notably, the oak tree at the corner of the north lawn grew from an acorn brought from England by Reverend Brown in 1829. It was originally planted in Paihia and transplanted here as a sapling in 1838.
It is the oldest living tree on the property and a significant heritage tree in Tauranga today, as are two Norfolk pines, the Archdeacon's Sentinels which guided the early sailing ships entering Tauranga Harbour.
The Maxwell family continued to tend and develop the gardens in the years that they lived there.
Edith and Alice Maxwell introduced palms and natives to the garden and plantsman Duff Maxwell intended his collection of interesting, unusual and rare plants and trees to be Tauranga's plant museum.
A five-star rating means that the garden is highly recommended for its presentation, design and plant interest throughout the year.
It will have a distinctive identity of its own and a character that gives it an edge.
It may also have special features that appeal to those with special interests.
The New Zealand Gardens Trust has set up a system to assess all gardens and provide visitors with information. Established as a Trust of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture in March 2004, the Trust's focus is to promote the best in New Zealand gardens and horticulture.
Volunteers at The Elms have been running heritage garden tours with Devonshire Tea all year around and these are particularly popular with garden clubs.
Nearby, two old houses have been removed from the corner of Chapel Street and Mission Street.
“We're developing a new garden of historical significance there,” says Bev Corbett, who is one of the guides running heritage garden tours.
“It is being designed by garden historian John Adam. We are just finalising the design.”
Troy Edgecombe and Rosie Burr are the grounds custodians. Troy started at The Elms in April 2017, after working in the Parks team at New Plymouth District Council.
“Paula Lambert was here before I started and she did an amazing amount of work on a shoestring budget,” says Troy. “She was taking up and planting seedlings from what she found.”
The original hollyhocks that were planted in the garden came all the way from Buckingham Palace, according to guide Maureen Boyle.
“The trees in this garden have so much history,” says Maureen, “because they've been planted by various people who have lived at the property over 180 years.”
Troy points out the flowerbed next to the coach house. “Edith and Alice Maxwell used to grow a lot of violets and other flowers,” says Troy.
“They'd take them in to the market to sell to help with the war effort. Eventually we're going to look at developing a Soldiers' Garden here to acknowledge this part of our history.”
The gardening team plan two or three projects for the Chapel lawn during 2018.
“We're going to be putting in some more brick edging around the western boundary garden,” says Troy, “and creating a garden around the historic kauri that we have on the north side of the chapel, just to prevent people walking all over the roots.”
Now that the Volkner building has been removed from the site, they're keen to add more colour into the garden and tidy up some of the area around the belfry.
Smart phone users can view the NZGT garden database and other basic garden information and park attractions under the free myParx smartphone application.