Te Punna Quarry Park - photographs and story by Mattea McKinnon

Published by Our Place magazine, New Zealand.

Three decades ago, Te Puna Quarry Park lay merely as an old scar on the hillside. Abandoned, overgrown and forgotten. A quarry from the early 1900s, it was used to extract rock for roadworks, reclamation and breakwaters. More than 500,00 tonnes of rhyolite rock was removed and after 50 years, the quarry closed in 1979.

Shirley Sparks emigrated from South Africa in 1954 and lived on the farm that backed onto the old quarry. She had a strong vision for the neglected area and pitched her ideas to the council for the wasteland to become a public space. After a lengthy negotiation process, plans began to be out into motion. "It took us three years of battling with bureaucracy. One of my daughters is a lawyer so she was a huge help" she says. "We could do nothing before overcoming issues regarding safety, management, landscape and geological plans. It was 32 hectares of land overrun with possums and weeds, used as a dump".

Shirley became the founding member of the Te Puna Quarry Park Society in 1993, alongside other committed individuals. and work began on the development of the park in 1996. A dedicated team of over 30 hard-working volunteers were behind the transformation for the upkeep today. Every Tuesday morning, the work on their selected areas and get together afterwards for a cup of tea.

"When we started, we had no idea it was going to take off like this," says Shirley, who's still actively involved with the park at age 89. "I'm absolutely amazed by the popularity, and the support has just been marvellous. The community and the volunteer work is hugely important and we have new people joining all the time."

The area is now an oasis for the public to enjoy, boasting sculptures, pathways, an amphitheatre and stunning panoramic views over the Bay of Plenty. There's a variety of specialised garden zones, including both a South African and Australian garden, and collections of orchids, heritage roses and fuchsias. One of the most interesting aspects of the park is the growing collection of outdoor artworks by regional artists, the most recent being a sculpture by local Katikati artist, Paora Ariki Martin.

The park is very popular with locals throughout the seasons, and across generations, from school trips to trampers, dog-walkers and gardeners. It's a true testament to the commitment of the volunteers.

A passer-by summarises the importance of the park, "If you have a bad day, after five minutes of being here, you'll forget all about it and feel so much better. This place is the remedy."

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