Weekend Sun   

The Summerhill Story

At Summerhill, farming, forestry and  people work in harmony.

The three aren’t separate – the Mountain bike jump-track weaves through the poplar trees, and the hiking trail starts beside a sheep paddock.

Hikers and bikers get the farm and forest experience side-by-side, against a backdrop of Mount Maunganui and the ocean.

The Summerhill story starts in 1958, when Cloie and David Blackley bought the land for farming.

Over the years, the couple were constantly asked by people if they could walk  through their property to the historic Papamoa Pa site.

Summerhill was officially opened to the public for recreation in 2014, when Cloie and David unconditionally gifted 126ha of the 400ha land to a charitable trust.

Through the trust, walking routes have been established, connecting the property and the regional park.

Mountain Bike Tauranga has created several tracks throughout the forest, too, and is constantly adding more.

“While they’re well retired now, my parents still get a lot of pleasure from going into the forest and seeing people enjoy it,” says Cloie and David’s daughter and Summerhill Charitable Trust chair, Gabrielle Walton.

“The people who come through here  show real pride towards it – they always let us know if they see a sick tree, or anything like that.

“Seeing people enjoy themselves and appreciate the land is a lovely by-product of the forest.”

When lockdown lifted and recreational activity could start again, Summerhill came back to life. Events like the Summerhill Skedaddle running fundraiser, held in August, have been able to restart.

This is all while Summerhill is used as a functioning sheep and beef farm and a forestry business called Summerhill Timbers, which Gabrielle co-directs with her husband, Andrew Walton.

The coexistence is made possible thanks to Continuous Cover Forestry – where trees are selectively harvested at different times, rather than clear felling.

Recreational tracks create easy access for contractors to fell individually selected trees, and not felling all of the trees at once keeps the land stable.

“There’s still plenty of forest cover to reduce weeds, and provide a forest setting for the public to enjoy.

“All the greenery on the forest floor, and the ecosystem that comes with it, has the opportunity to grow thanks to the shade provided by the trees – something that wouldn’t happen if we clear felled.”

Forestry at Summerhill unofficially started in 1960, when Cloie and David planted their steepest land, which was unsuitable for grazing stock, with pine trees.

Today, pine is just one of the many trees growing in the Summerhill forest, with species including Cypress, Victorian ash, Tasmanian Blackwood  and Poplar.

Gabrielle says growing a variety of trees is both good for the environment, and forest health.

“Our objective has always been to provide a diverse range of timbers for the NZ marketplace.”

Growing different species means the business benefits from fast growing trees like pine, high-value exotics, and natives that can take more than 50 years to mature.

“We strongly believe in intergenerational planting – planting high value trees that span more than one generation to produce amazing timbers.”

Gabrielle, who is a qualified landscape architect, says the Government’s recent Building for Climate Change bill that puts preference on low carbon-emitting materials like timber, is a positive.

She hopes the bill encourages the building industry to use more NZ grown timbers.

“The range of timbers we grow at Summerhill is diverse in colour, features, durability … and can all be used in NZ buildings.

“The rich, dark colour of Tasmanian Blackwood makes beautiful furniture and eucalyptus and poplar are pale and strong.

“We grow a wonderful range of timbers in NZ – so why not buy local?”

Gabrielle and Andrew practise what they preach. From poplar walls to the Tasmanian Blackwood floors, their home is almost entirely constructed from Summerhill timber.

“We worked with architects to get the balance right between the different timbers, and we’re really pleased with how it turned out.”

Working with Summerhill Timbers is a collaborative process. Architects and builders approach the business with a project idea, and they work together to find the right timber for the job.

“Adding forestry to the farm has been a wise land use decision, and including people has been a joy.

“We’re certainly proud of what the farm has grown into.”

For more information about Summerhill Timbers, visit: www.summerhilltimbers.co.nz

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