Mandy McMullin takes a walk through the Valley Road area of Mt Eden, Auckland, and laments the loss of the magnificent old trees being cut down and lost forever, rather than protected.
I fell in love with this neighbourhood the moment we moved in. You know why? So many gorgeous trees. They were the first things I noticed. If you come with me I’ll introduce you to a few of them, take you on a kind of guided tour. Free of charge. You ready?
Ok. Now. Stepping out our gate, cross the road and look down that driveway, the one leading to the kindergarten that used to be stables. See the big patch of pansies planted in the hole? That’s where a giant acmena tree stood. It really was a giant, maybe 10 metres tall, as old as the stables, with a dead straight trunk, smooth and brown, topped by a round green crown. Like an enormous lollipop, the shape of a tree that a child would draw, only it was real. That was the first to go. Our first summer here and the chainsaws went for days. The following winter, they planted the pansies.
Continuing on, turn right and we arrive at Dominion Road. Wait at the crossing and at the sound of the buzzer, cross over. Up Valley Road on the left, past Mr Gordon’s Laundry and Drycleaning service, past the people waiting at the bus stop, to the yellow bungalow now occupied by a legal office, where the magnificent old Rhododrendron that graced the entire front yard as high as the roof has been chainsawed away, so its abundant crimson blossoms no longer casually stun the passerby.
And look, immediately next door, do you remember the old Greenpeace office? I made banners there in the days when the leafy shade of a good stand of native trees –karaka, titoki, kowhai – completely covered the concrete block frontage now seen from the street.
Cmon, Keep up! Just a couple of doors further up a large and magnificent forest of a garden, so resplendent with trees you couldn’t see in from the road. The garden was also home to the biggest pepper tree I have ever seen. Of course the garden’s all gone now, bulldozed for development, the bare soil and broken stumps looking like a palm oil protest picture out of Indonesia, so you’ll just have to imagine it.
Seen enough on this side? OK then, look across the street instead to where the 1930s pink and cream stucco flats stood. You may remember their exotic mission architecture? I like to think of it as Hollywood style, but definitely LA. And that secret leafy courtyard only glimpsed from the road through a row of upright Italian Cypress. Maybe you lived there once, behind the (now gone) conifers and were lucky enough to wake every morning to the sound of the fountain showering the lovely marble Venus in the garden, naked under her long hair. If she’d stayed where she was, she would have made quite a splash in the newly-expanded Countdown car park.
C’mon keep up. It’s not far up the hill now to Horoeka Avenue, where right here on the corner if you lean over the wall you will see the massive stump of a Bottlebrush so huge a three metre section of fence was built to accommodate the trunk. The tree itself is gone of course but that impressive section of fence still stands. One winter day I counted a dozen tui feeding in that tree, all shrieking and flapping in the bright red winter nectar. Do you love to see the tui too?
Now, please turn all your attention back to crossing the road, this is a very bad corner for pedestrians. We’re nearly at the school. I don’t know why they call an intermediate ‘Normal’, do you? Anyway, this is what I want to show you, across the road, that lovely old two-storied villa. See how it stands out? It was like something out of Katherine Mansfield with its beautiful old pair of trees, pohutukawa and oak, framing the front yard, symmetrical against the verandah view. Although now as you see, the Pohutukawa stands alone on the lawn, the oak has been replaced by a brand new swimming pool. The other two, old oaks, magnificent twins in the backyard, removed too.
While we’re round the back, did any of you ever stay at the Pentlands backpackers lodge up the street before it was bulldozed by new owners, and all the fine old trees, including a mighty tōtara over a 100 years old, that was so tall it could be seen for miles, were chopped down?
‘How much more?’ I hear you ask. C’mon, chin up, you can do this. We’re almost there. You only have to do it once. I do this walk every day.
Here we are, Sherbourne, our last stop. That old house there behind the tall hedge had a fantastic guava tree in the front yard. Higher than the second floor. Once my friend Louise climbed over their gate and helped herself to the fruit to make jelly, she said it was going to waste – what the birds didn’t take was all over the ground. I waited outside. I’m not as bold as Louise. Not long after that it was chopped down, so at least nothing’s wasted now.
And over there on Valley Road, was a gorgeous jacaranda tree, so glorious in season I loved to reach the brow of the hill, gasp and smile as it came into view, its drooping lilac display stupendous against the sky, and afterwards step in the vivid purple petals all over the soft footpath.
Anyway that’s it – the last tree on our walk and the end of our little tour. You can go now, back to your busy lives. But before you go, tell me, did you see the trees? Weren’t they gorgeous? Perhaps you too fell in love with this neighbourhood because of those old trees.
. . .
Mandy McMullin is a writer, landscape architect and long-time Forest & Bird member. The trees and locations she writes about are in the Valley Road area of Mt Eden, in Auckland.
“I chose these as examples but they are the tip of the iceberg,” she says.
“So many magnificent urban trees are being cut down in Auckland, especially in the older leafy suburbs, all since the previous government changed the tree protection rules. It’s terribly sad and something that is largely overlooked – and it’s set to increase in-line with the pace of intensification/urban development.”
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