Ruahine Forest Park – May 2021
The restoration of Te Ao Tūpare, formerly known as Traverse or A Frame Hut, must count as one of the most special projects ever supported by the Backcountry Trust. Over the last 18 months, dedicated members of a local hapū have transformed it from a run-down shack to a beautiful and unique whare.
Te Ao Tūpare lies atop the southern Ruahine Range. Built by the Forest Service some decades ago, the shelter is accessible by tramping track (up a steep route from Tamaki West Road) or up a long 4WD route beginning from Takapari Road (steep but good for mountain biking). It’s surrounded by a great swathe of tūpare, or leatherwood (Olearia colensoi) – in fact possibly the country’s greatest extent of this hardy native sub-alpine shrub.
Over the last few decades, the hut had suffered much from vandalism and neglect; its removal was often talked about, but never quite happened.
Enter the picture Cherry Peeti-Tapurau, whose hapū hail from Dannevirke, east of the Ruahine Range.
In March 2019, Cherry celebrated her 55th birthday at A Frame Hut. As she tells it: ‘I fell in love with this broken-down old whare and the space it sits on. I wanted to fix it up, but I had to convince my husband Wae to help me.’
‘Of course he agreed, bless him. Then my cousin Dave Barber found out about it and was up for the challenge too, so our very small Te Ao Tūpare crew was born.'
Cherry worked hard, sought permission from DOC, and secured funding from the Back Country Trust. The on-site mahi began in mid-February 2020, just before Covid-19 forced a temporary halt to progress. As Cherry says, ‘What an out-there ride it's been: politics, Covid and then winter, but along the way we had support from hunters, trampers, 4WD dudes, whānau, friends and the Back Country Trust to keep us going.’
The Te Ao Tūpare crew built a retaining wall, re-roofed, painted inside and out, installed new bunks and a woodstove, planted flax, fixed up the entrance, and made the beautiful barge boards. Lastly, the crew bestowed the transformed hut with its new name.
The artwork on the barge boards, Cherry says, ‘tells about our people that came before us, who upheld the tikanga and kawa of Ruahine, it talks about the track coming up from Tamaki and Takapari and shows the beauty beneath her abused, battered body. It talks about the Po (night) a time to listen, it talks about Tama Nui Te Rā, and how lucky we are to stand on Ruahine Te Maunga and watch an epic display of the rising and setting of Rā. And last of all, it talks about the Tūpare that gave us the name for the whare, but really the whare and the space are one.’
‘The design was to create a shift in a way we think; to stop and to understand that this is a special place, so I decided to do a contemporary Māori design to give a presence to the whare and the space. Doing the design this way I was mindful not to intimidate or make non-Māori feel uncomfortable, but more to say “kia ora”, welcome to Te Ao Tūpare.’
Cherry says, ‘This journey has tested everything we had and more, but I wouldn't change a thing.’ She particularly wants to thank her husband Wae Tapurau, ‘my tool guy’, her cousin Dave Barber, ‘our calming presence’, and everyone who was ‘so committed to the kaupapa’. In May 2021, the mahi was largely completed, excepting a few very small jobs.
The final words go to Cherry: ‘Lastly I would like to acknowledge my Tupuna Ruahine: thank you for keeping us safe through this whole project. Te Ao Tūpare – the realm of the leatherwood trees. On that space is a whare, a taonga for the people. Please love it as much as we do.’