The Jim Barnett Reserve Committee has established its own website for the reserve. It can be accessed here.
Walking tracks in the South Waikato can be viewed here.
The walking tracks
Thirteen different tracks meander through the Jim Barnett Reserve. The tracks are of varying lengths, but all are easy walking with a few short, steep sections, negotiable for people of most fitness levels.
Tracks are shared with the Waikato River Trails, please be aware of cyclists on the tracks and share with care.
An area in the bottom left of the reserve has been cleared as a camping site which is equipped with a tap, toilets and picnic tables.
The Jim Barnett Reserve Committee are a dedicated team of individuals who have put in countless volunteer hours at the reserve, clearing tracks, building amenities and managing work crews that maintain the tracks.
The wild side
Hot sighting by of a Kereru (wood pigeon) at Jim Barnett Reserve taken in June 2013. Video courtesy of Alan Blair. Click on the photo to view video:
The reserve area was logged between 1900 and 1920. Since then the forest has regenerated well, with more than a little help in recent years from the Reserve Committee and a variety of community and school groups.
Today tawa, mangeao and rewarewa dominate the canopy but strands of totara, rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro can also be found. Mahoe, pate and five-finger are common in the understory with lemonwood, titoki and kohekohe in the damper gullies. Around the edge of the forest you will see large areas of retired pasture replanted with everything from totara to koromiko.
Many common bush birds are found in the reserve. Kereru (native pigeons) often fly overhead and tui and makomako (bell birds) can be heard. Fantails often follow along in your footsteps and you might be lucky enough to hear the high pitched call of the tiny grey warbler. Other wildlife, like insects and worms, are less visible but are still an important part of the system.
Maintaining a balance
As well as all the replanting, the committee also carries out intensive possum control in the reserve. This has made a great difference to the bush and the bird life, as possums feed on eggs, young chicks and the leaves of palatable trees such as five-finger. Other work has included weed control and fencing to keep out stock.
At one time, this land was covered in dense forest as far as the eye could see. Then, in 186 AD, the volcanic crater we now call Lake Taupo erupted violently sending out a wave of superheated air and ash that flattened almost everything in its path. The landscape was left burnt and barren in all but a few sheltered spots.
At Waotu, a low hill diverted the destruction and a narrow strip of bush was left intact. It stood alone in a sea of regenerating tussock and shrubs until the arrival of the Maori people, who named the forest Te Waotu tahi nga rakau. Translated this means: the tall forest that stood by itself.
The area was soon densely populated, at first by Ngati Kahupungapunga and then, from the 16th century, by Ngati Raukawa. However, the things that made Waotu popular for the Maori people - the resources of the forest and the nearness of the mighty Waikato also attracted European settlers. By the end of the 19th century much of the shrub land had been cleared for farms and logging had begun in Waotu bush, as it was now known.
Sadly, about 90% (900ha) of Waotu Bush was gone by the 1920s. Valuable timber trees like totara and rimu were cut down, loaded onto wagons and pulled out by horses or bullocks along purpose-built tramways. Today only fragments remain. The largest of these is made up of the Jim Barnett Reserve and an adjoining block of covenanted land.
The Reserve was purchased from the Barnett family in 1992. It is now managed by a committee with representatives from Forest and Bird, Putaruru Rotary, Putaruru Walking Group, the South Waikato District Council and the Waotu community.