Flora & Fauna

Flora and Fauna of The Banks Track

A multitude of diversity to enjoy

The Banks Track traverses from summit to sea through farmland, conservation and marine reserve areas.These diverse landforms result in different flora and fauna along the route.

Renowned botanist, conservationist, author, artist and manager of Hinewai Reserve, Hugh Wilson, walks the Banks Track each season completing a Track Inspection. This, and his help with maintenance work along the track, has given him many opportunities to take note of the varied flora and fauna you may see along the Banks Track.

 

Conservation Efforts

The south east corner of Banks Peninsula is known as the  “Wildside” due to the landowner’s many years of conservation efforts to preserve flora and fauna. It is a truly beautiful and spectacular oasis of species thriving together that the Banks Track now traverses.

Conservation began in this special “wildside” area when the Maurice White Native Forest Trust purchased their first land in the Ōtānerito Valley and established Hinewai Reserve. This private reserve, open to the public like a mini national park on the doorstep of Akaroa, along with the determination of the Armstrong family to protect the sooty shearwater, the little penguin and the yellow-eyed penguins on their property began the “wildside” concept. The Helps family took up the call shortly after to save the extensive little penguin colony on their land.

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Stony Bay and Flea Bay are, sadly, the last true open hillside colonies of little penguins on mainland New Zealand. Flea Bay, the largest little penguin colony of 1300 breeding pairs, is over 91 hectares in area with penguins breeding up to 800 metres from the sea to an altitude of over 200 metres. These are staggering distances for a little bird with such short legs to walk over challenging terrain.

An extensive predator control program has been running for over 30 years and has resulted in a good increase in penguin numbers in both colonies.

Mark and Sonia Armstrong also worked to save the last of the tītī (sooty shearwater) on their propert. With the help of the Banks Track, funds were generated to build a predator proof fence around the last nest sites that had failed due to predation. Mark feared it would be too late, but the first chicks in many years successfully fledged within the protected area, a worthy reward for his efforts. Ongoing years saw a marked increase in fledging until it became important to extend the area and the second better fence was erected. The Banks Track passes the still increasing sooty shearwater colony perched on the spectacular cliff tops.

There are also many covenants on the private land the Banks Track traverses. These covenants are diverse, from bush covenants to penguin breeding covenants and archeological covenants. Land has also been donated to the crown by Banks Track landowners, such as Nikau Palm Gully by the Hamilton family, which is seen from the Banks Track and the Tutakakahikura Scenic Reserve, traversed by the Banks Track which was donated by the Helps family. 

Banks Track Flora Article by Hugh Wilson

Hugh Wilson, the author of Plant Life on Banks Peninsula and one of the Banks Track directors, has written an introductory essay about the flora (trees, shrrubs, ferns, fungi, mosses etc) that you may encounter along the Banks Track.

Flora (plantlife) of Banks Track

Flora (plant life) of Banks Track

Before humans arrived some 700 or 800 years ago, Banks Peninsula was forested from side to side and from top to bottom. In February 1770, when Captain James Cook and his naturist Joseph Banks sailed past the southeast bays of the Peninsula (they called it Banks Island), they described wooded valleys but “bare” (tree-less) summits, ridges and headlands. We know now that the treeless areas resulted from burning by Polynesian (Māori) settlers during the preceding centries. A century later European (Pākehā) settlers were burning the remaining forest. Native tress have by no means vanished, though. Precious remnants of old-growth forest persist, and there is widespread vigorous regeneration of “second-growth” bush. The Banks Track traverses both.

Thus while the continuous old-growth forest of the past is gone, a richly diverse native flora still thrives. In all, about 500 species of native trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, sedges, rushes and ferns can be seen along the Banks Track, plus many introduced species, now wild, not to mention a multitude of mosses, liverworts, lichens, fungi and algae. Species as different as tussocks and palms, beech trees and bull kelp, tough twiggy shrubs and delicate white flowers, soft ferns and spiky Spaniards, everywhere fascinate the observant walker.

Some of the way you walk on open pastures, a mixture of native and introduced grasses and herbs. Tussocks are native grasses and sedges growing in distinctive bunches up to a metre or more tall. Abundant dense, springy, tiny-leaved, twiggy shrubs, all looking very similar, actually belong to about 30 species in 16 different plant families. A third of them belong to a genus called Coprosma which is related to coffee!

In this southeast corner of Banks Peninsula some fifteen notable plants reach their natural southern limit. For example, the Track passes close to two nikau palms just down valley from the lower most Flea Bay waterfall. Kawakawa (an understory shrub with heart-shaped leaves, closely related to pepper) is especially abundant in the Flea Bay Gully. Other species at their southern limit include the trees titoki and akeake, the glossy-leaved native passion vine, and several ferns.

The huge sea cliffs are one of the strong holds of the Akaroa Daisy, (a handsome Celmisia unique to the Banks Track area). Palm-like cabbage trees, sword-leaved harakeke or NZ flax (Phormium) and big tussocks of toetoe (Austroderia – similar to the South American pampas grass) are distinct features of the landscape here, as elsewhere in NZ.

This southeast corner is also the only part of Banks Peninsula where native beech trees occur naturally. Red beech, with larger (not very large though) tooth-edged leaves, is much more common than black beech, with smaller, smooth-edged leaves. The Banks Track traverses magnificent red beech forest in the upper parts of Flea Bay and Stony Bay valleys, where the trees are several hundred years old and up to 30 metres tall. Lower down, New Zealand’s tallest native tree species, kahikatea, is represented by a few surviving adults where once there were hundreds of thousands. There are two fine specimens near the lowermost Flea Bay waterfall. These, and other podocarps matai and totara, are regenerating in the recovering forests.

Much of the regenerated forest along the Banks Track is of kanuka, sometimes called tea tree because the aromatic foliage makes a pleasant hot drink. There are also extensive areas of much more diverse mixed hardwood canopies, especially in the mid Flea Bay gully and in Forks gully. Many of these native hardwood trees have pleasant-sounding and descriptive names in Māori and English, such as māhoe (whiteywood), tree fuchsia, fivefinger, sevenfinger, lancewood, kōwhai, ngaio, pigeonwood, lacebark, ribbonwood, broadleaf, kaikōmako, putaputāwētā (marbleleaf), lemonwood, tutu, wineberry and karamū.

Five species of tree fern flourish along the Banks Track, ranging in size from the smaller rough tree fern or whekī (Dicksonia squarrosa), to the huge palm-like mamaku (Cyathea medullaris). In the upper Stony Bay valley watch out for the related mountain cyathea, like a soft-leaved tree fern which never develops a trunk nor a skirt of dead frond stalks.

At the very top of Stony Bay valley the steep gradient suddenly relents where Ōpātuti Track meets horizontal Tara Track. Here is distinctive sub-alpine vegetation of snow tussock (Chionochloa rigida), turpentine scrub (Dracophyllum acerosum), and mikimiki (Coprosma dumosa). In midsummer the banks are brightened with small white flowers such as Forstera, Ourisia, Anaphalioides and Raoulia, along with some modest native orchids. Later in summer look for the white fruit of snowberry (Gaultheria) and the orange-fruited dwarf mountain heath.

There is one plant you should not touch: tree nettle or ongaonga (Urtica ferox). It has pale green, ragged-edged leaves covered in white hairs which inflict a painful sting on contact. This is not a major problem for most people, and is a bonus for the red admiral butterfly that breed on the ongaonga.

Banks Track Fauna Article by Hugh Wilson

Hugh Wilson, the manager of Hinewai Reserve and one of the Banks Track directors, has written an introductory essay about the fauna (birds, mammals, fish, insects etc) that you may encounter along the Banks Track.

Fauna (wildlife) of Banks Track

Fauna (wildlife) of Banks Track

Penguins and seals are the star attractions, but many other birds, mammals, lizards, fish and insects will be encountered along the Banks Track. The yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho) here represent the northernmost breeding population of this, the world’s rarest penguin. Hoiho inhabit only southern New Zealand. About 75cm tall, the penguins do not breed in closely packed colonies but scattered pairs are usually within sight or sound of a few neighbours. Only half as big, but much more common, the white-flippered little blue penguin (kororā) spends most of its year at sea. They come ashore to breed from late winter into early summer, then again to moult in midsummer. Little blues are the world’s smallest penguins. The white-flippered form is a distinctive race breeding only on Banks Peninsula and Motunau Island, some 80kms to the north. Flea Bay hosts by far the biggest population of this species on the Peninsula, carefully guarded by the local landowners, the Helps.

The New Zealand fur seal (kekeno) is increasingly common around Banks Peninsula, following wholesale slaughter in the sealing decades of the nineteenth century. Elephant seal, sea lions and leopard seals are occasional visitors. Hectors dolphins stay close to shore, and are quite often seen by walkers. You would have to be lucky to see a whale from the shore, but orca (“killer whales”), sperm whales, humpback whales and southern right whales have all been seen by walkers.

The only other native mammals you might possibly see are bats, but both New Zealand species are now, alas, probably extinct on Banks Peninsula. Introduced mammals are common, nearly all of them harmful to native flora and fauna. Besides farmed sheep and cattle you could see hares, rabbits, brush-tailed possums, hedgehogs, rats, mice, cats, ferrets, stoats and weasels. We hope you don’t see feral goats: a vigorous campaign over the last three decades has eliminated them from the entire Banks Track area, and from most of the rest of the Peninsula.

Many of the birds you will see are also introduced species: redpole, chaffinch, yellowhammer, greenfinch, goldfinch, starling, house sparrow, Californian quail, rock pigeon, white-backed magpie, blackbird, song thrush, skylark, mallard, Canada goose, grey-lag goose and pheasant.

But there are lots of native birds too: bellbird, tūī, brown creeper (pīpipi), tomtit, rifleman, kererū (NZ pigeon), grey warbler, fantail, silvereye, morepork, shining cuckoo, kingfisher, paradise shelduck, grey duck, pipit, welcome swallow and spur-winged plover. The common bird of prey is the harrier hawk (kāhu), native to NZ and also to Australia and New Guinea, but in recent years NZ falcon have started breeding here again after a long absence; you may well see and hear one. Black swans are an interesting case. The supposedly long-extinct NZ swan is now thought to be identical to the Australian black swan. The present population of black swan has resulted from human assisted introductions many decades ago, but probably also from occasional birds arriving on their own from across the Tasman Sea. In any event, the handsome black swan can be regarded as a NZ native. Coastal birds abound: spotted shag, little shag, pied shag, black shag, black backed gull, red billed gull, white-fronted tern, pied oyster catchers and black (variable) oyster catchers. Albatrosses, mollymawks, shooty shearwaters (muttonbirds or tītī) and smaller petrels can sometimes be seen out to the sea from the clifftops. You might also see gannets and Caspian terns, which both catch their fish in spectacular plunges from mid-air into the sea.

A rich diversity of fish and shellfish live in the coastal waters; some notable species are red cod, blue cod, barracouta, elephant fish, flounder, sole, kahawai, blue moki, red gurnard, rig, spotty, leatherjacket, butterfish, snapper, tarakihi, wrasse and southern pig fish.

Eels share the streams with small native fish, including bullies, torrentfish, lampreys, and the adults of whitebait (galaxiids).

Native lizards along the Banks Track include both geckos and skinks. The most beautiful of them, the vivid green jewelled gecko, is hard to see because of its superb camouflage and secretive habits in the foliage of shrubs. Local frogs are introductions from Australia. The small whistling frog (Litoria ewingii) is common, its calls particularly noticeable on still nights.

The invertebrate fauna along the Banks Track is so numerous and diverse that only a few features of particular interest can be mentioned in this brief account. The little white ‘tents’ so abundant on native shrubs and gorse are constructed by nursery web spiders. Fearsome-looking, but harmless wētā are large relatives of grasshoppers. Stick insects are quite common but so cryptic they are usually overlook, even though one of them can be 20cm or more long! In midsummer the loud rasping of cicadas can inhibit conversation. There are numerous moth species, mostly night-flying but only a few butterfly species. The most handsome butterflies readily seen along the Banks Track are red admiral, monarch and yellow admiral. Smaller coppers and little blue butterflies abound.

Four orders of insects are particularly well represented in the local streams: mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and two-winged flies. The caddis flies have an especially large fauna here; it includes species found nowhere else but on Banks Peninsula, and one of the world’s few marine insects, a caddisfly plentiful along the Peninsula’s rocky shores. Larvae of an unusual net-winged midge are abundant in the streams; remarkable ‘piston-powered’ suckers enable them to move freely about in strong currents, grazing algae from submerged boulder surfaces.

No fewer than ten predatory ground beetles, one up to 3cm long, are unique to Banks Peninsula. Some other noticeable insects are dragonflies, damselflies, lacewings, dobsonflies, scorpionflies, scarab beetles, tiger beetles, huhu beetles, weevils, craneflies (tipulids), native bees and ichneumon wasps.

 

For further information about NZ Birds visit DOC’s A-Z of Birds.