Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) Backcountry magazine book review
Sincere thanks to FMC for this review, your readers will very much be the outdoor, conservation-minded people who would appreciate Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush. There is just one, potentially negative quote: ‘unless you were or still are an Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush volunteer or staff member, this book contains perhaps more details than required.’ In fact, we take this comment as a compliment - the huge community of volunteers and staff who have worked and still work tirelessly in collaboration for the benefit of Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush are the essence of this special place and very much part of its story.
Ōtari: Two hundred years of Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush
By Bee Dawson, photographs by Chris Coad, The Cuba Press, November 2022, hard cover, 228 pages, $80. Reviewed by Peter Laurenson, New Zealand Alpine Club.
Ōtari tells the story of Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush, the only botanic garden dedicated solely to the collection and conservation of the plants unique to Aotearoa New Zealand, and a native bush reserve with over a hundred hectares of regenerating forest, including some of Wellington’s oldest trees.
Given the increased focus on ways to be in nature while reducing our carbon footprint, this book is timely. While Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush will not offer the same degree of challenge and adventure as our backcountry, with free entry it still does offer the most accessible native bush experience within our capital city. Ideally suited to families with young children and to the elderly, the reserve’s many trails provide very enjoyable nature walks, educational experiences and access to the Town Belt. The reserve also provides a worthy focal point for conservationists and botanists wishing to volunteer their time and energy.
Ōtari begins with the Ngāti Tama gardens in the area from the 1820s, and settler family the Wiltons, who protected acres of native bush for the community to enjoy, and then follows the evolution of the land into a plant museum under leading plant ecologist Leonard Cockayne and Wellington’s first director of parks and reserves, John Gretton MacKenzie.
Botanical descriptions and archival research are enlivened by the many recent and archival photographs, and by the colourful stories of the curators who created and managed the collections, starting with Walter Brockie in 1947, as well as the many gardeners, botanists and volunteers who have worked on the internationally renowned garden and reserve. Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush is a taonga that sustains both the people who visit it and the country whose plant life it protects.
Unless you were or still are an Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush volunteer or staff member, this book contains perhaps more details than required. It certainly documents the many facets of the reserve’s journey very thoroughly. Even so, if you’re a botanist and/or a Wellingtonian, then Ōtari: Two hundred years of Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush is a well-written, interesting story, and a call to action to engage with the reserve with renewed enthusiasm.
Until very recently a Wellingtonian myself, I found the degree to which Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush is entwined with the wider history of Wellington to be fascinating. I was also mightily impressed by the amount of dedicated, mostly volunteer effort and care that has been invested in the reserve, spanning more than a century. It helps to explain how the reserve has evolved into the treasure it is today.
Posted: 30 July 2023