Early in the morning on the Wednesday before Arbor Day 2016, Ngāti Manawa kaumātua and kuia gathered at Kani Rangi Park in Murupara to bless the site of a major planting programme. The programme was initiated by their iwi on land restored to them as part of the cultural redress in a 2011 Treaty settlement with the Crown. They planted a memorial grove of totara in honour of war veterans from their iwi, including Staff Sergeant Kani Rangitauira, after whom the park is named. He received a Military Medal for single-handedly taking 18 German soldiers prisoner in Italy towards the end of World War II.
With the combined efforts of trainees from Te Roopu Manaaki (a group established to develop the skills to look after the park) and children from Murupara Area School and Murupara College, a total of four thousand native trees were planted that morning and on subsequent days.
The park includes the confluence of two streams and the Rangitaiki River, Ngāti Manawa’s tipuna awa, a famed habitat for eels and other native species and of Murupara, the local taniwha. The vision of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Manawa is to restore the 10 hectare reserve to a native podocarp/hardwood high forest for biodiversity, cultural and recreational values, and in so doing contribute to a national movement to plant more native trees to mitigate climate change.
The Runanga has worked with Landscape Architect Richard Hart to produce a development plan for the park. Partners in the project include Te Roopu Manaaki, local schools, Environment Bay of Plenty, Whakatāne District Council, Kaingaroa Timberlands Ltd, the Department of Conservation, the NZ Transport Agency and the Fish and Game Council. The Ngā Whenua Rāhui Fund has contributed to cultural training and upskilling. Two and a half thousand of the four thousand trees for the first stage of the planting were funded by Trees That Count.
In the days following the site blessing and the initial plantings, members of Te Roopu Manaaki work training scheme planted a further 2000 seedlings. The remainder were planted on a community planting day in June, including school children, volunteer fire fighters and other community members, finishing at lunchtime with speeches, a blessing and a barbecue.