Topic: The Kaitieke Apple Tree by Peter Henson

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The Kaitieke Apple Tree by Peter Henson is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived verions here.

Fenced off in a paddock, beside the metal road that passes it, a lone apple tree stands, testament to a way of life in the Kaitieke ‘back blocks’, now long gone. With netting in its branches to stop possums eating the fruit, it produces a fine crop of huge apples around March every year. Located on the Kaitieke Road, which starts at Raurimu, adjacent to the foot of the famous Spiral, it heads off at a right angle after leaving State Highway 4. With its many bends, it passes various farms, forestry blocks and native reserves and then starts dropping down, while following the left side of the valley. When the valley levels out, the road continues past more farms and forest blocks (old and new) until it reaches a junction at the Kaitieke School. The ‘continuation’ then extends through the lower Retaruke area, eventually reaching the Wanganui River. Going in the other direction, past the Oio No.1 Road, driving through more farmland you come out onto State Highway 4 again, near the settlement of Owhango.

This apple variety is called Peasgood Nonsuch, and was originally planted by Emma Manby of Grantham, Lincolnshire in the late 1850’s. She later married John Peasgood and moved to Stamford about 20 miles away. She transplanted her small tree but it did not produce any fruit until 1870. Green to yellow in colour, the apples eventually feature dark red stripes and are juicy and very sweet. They are excellent for both eating and cooking. They range in size up to around three, and even four times bigger than a normal sized apple. The fruit that was marketed from 1872 onwards, has been described as “one of the most handsome apples in cultivation.” Ever enticing, both residents of the area and passers by, travelling along the Kaitieke Road stop to pick these delicious apples.

This grand old apple tree is like a time capsule, transporting one back 112 years to the ‘turn of the century’ and beyond, when the whole area was mostly covered in virgin native bush and the main inhabitants were the local Maori’s. An influx of European railway men, bushmen and navvies followed rail construction of the Main Trunk Line. Some from the north and others entered the area by coming up the Wanganui River. The Wellington Land Board held ballots for sections in the Kaitieke Blocks in their offices early on, but not much interest was shown. However, after the ceremony when Joseph Ward (Premier) drove the last spike, the now completed Main Trunk Line really opened up the area. Hundreds applied to go


into the ballots, but many were rejected, with “preference being given to men out of work or in casual employment who did not ordinarily have the opportunity of getting onto the land.”

By this stage, the Kaitieke County Council had been formed and one of their main priorities was (as in other areas) roads. The King Country Back-blocks Association had also been formed, with meetings being held in Taumarunui over a number of years. Delegates from all the councils in the district attended, including the one from Kaitieke.

With the advent of World War One, The Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act was passed in 1915. This contained far reaching and generous provisions for settlement of the land by the soldiers returning from overseas. A year later the government, of the day, announced in the newspapers: Land For Soldiers – Large Block To Be Opened Up in the Kaitieke and Waimarino counties of nearly 35,000 acres. The land was able to be purchased with cash, deferred payments, or a 66 year lease with a right to renew or freehold. This was just one of many blocks to be opened up over the next decade. The ‘broken country’ is a mixture of ridges and deep gullies with various creeks and rivers. Also, a few flat areas thrown in for good measure. With generally good pumice soil, but resting on sandstone and papa, it is prone to slipping after heavy rains. The echo of the axe and falling trees could be heard in all directions as the settlers started clearing the land. This in turn created a burgeoning timber industry.

Homesteads were built, and the land was cleared and burnt off, (thus letting the sunlight in) before areas could be hand sown with grass seed, amongst the stumps and other debris. Sheep were introduced and woolsheds then built all along the Kaitieke Road. Later thousands of bales of wool would be transported, every season, to Raurimu Station, and loaded onto the trains. Also, cattle were being introduced. There were now considerable areas suitable for pasturing dairy herds. With a school for the children, (opened in 1910), a store, a boarding house, a hall, a domain and the ongoing improvements to the various access roads, into and through the valley, a sense of community prevailed among the settlers and later residents.

As in other districts, throughout the length of New Zealand, the people of Kaitieke paid a very high price during World War One. They lost many of their young farmers in the European conflict. A war memorial, unveiled on 22nd January 1923, was erected by the Settlers of Kaitieke in memory of those who had made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’. Located on


one of the road junctions in the area, it lists the names of 23 young men with a further six names being added after the Second World War, 1939-45.              

64113 Private Rasmus William Edward Nielsen MM is one of the names on the memorial. He served in B Company of the Wellington Infantry Regiment, 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force (32nd Reinforcements), leaving New Zealand on 16th November 1917 on the Troop Transport Ship ‘Tahiti’ bound for Liverpool in England. From there he was sent to France where he witnessed ‘trench warfare’ at its bloodiest. Awarded the Military Medal, the citation reads: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In the Bapaume Sector during operations August 24th/September 4th, this man while serving as a stretcher bearer worked unceasingly and with great determination in carrying out wounded through Artillery and machine gun fire. His energy and untiring efforts were a great example to his comrades. His gallantry and devotion to duty was a fine example’.

Rasmus Nielsen died of his injuries in New Zealand on 14th August 1919 and was buried in the Taumarunui Old Cemetery, located on Golf Road. After his son’s death, Rasmus Nielson (senior) decided to sell his substantial farm at Kaitieke, placing advertisements in the Fielding Star newspaper between July and October 1920.

With winter now, its fruit and leaves are long gone. The lone apple tree still stands vigil, fenced off in a paddock, beside the metal road that passes it. With a few grazing sheep in a neighbouring paddock for company, and showing its horrific scars from years past, it battles on. Partially ripped apart in strong winds, two of its branches have fallen to the ground, exposing the ‘see through’ hole in its trunk. But the branches are still growing and determined, just like the tree, not to give up!

Kaitieke, a district literally carved out of the wilderness, still surviving life’s challenges and will continue to do so, just like The Kaitieke Apple Tree!!!



This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2-16:


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The Kaitieke Apple Tree by Peter Henson

Note:ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peter L. Henson was born in Murupara, 1957. He has lived in Turangi for 53 years and works in the local forest industry (NZ Forest Service, Timberlands, NZ Forest Managers 38 years). An avid collector, researcher and genealogist, married to Glenys for 21 years and has a son Cameron 13.