Summer is a great season to explore nature. If you’re short on time, urban bush reserves are perfect for getting a quick nature fix. Wairarapa local Rebecca Jamieson discovers these special places, and how they can benefit our well being.

There is something almost magical about small urban bush reserves. They remind me of a scene from The Secret Garden. High walls hide an oasis of nature in the middle of town. Masterton’s Millennium Reserve is one of my favourites. Beyond the fortress of trees are meandering trails, pure water springs, joyful bird song, and a rich diversity of plant life.

I explored the reserve recently with my son John. We stopped along the track to admire the abundance of bright yellow kowhai flowers and delicate red kakabeak. John climbed trees and searched for bugs in the stream, while I admired the view and the song of a grey warbler. I felt calm and rejuvenated.

We emerged back out onto the street as a car rushed past. I was quickly transported from the tranquility of the reserve back to busy urban life. Nature has a way of doing that – taking you away from the business of life and leaving you feeling more rested. In fact, it’s proven that walking in nature benefits not only our physical wellbeing, but also our mental health.

A study led by Chiba University in Japan compared the effects of a 15 minute walk in a forest setting with those of an inner city walk. The study found the forest walkers showed a lower level of cortisol, the stress hormone, compared to the city walkers.

But access to forested areas is challenging for those with little time or limited transport options. That’s why urban reserves are so vital. They allow you to fit a quick walk in your lunch hour, between appointments, over a busy weekend, or after school with the kids.

So where in Wairarapa can you get your nature fix? Masterton’s Manuka Reserve in Lansdowne is another favourite of mine, and puts on an amazing display of white lacebark flowers at certain times of the year. The reserve connects onto one of the Masterton Recreation Trails leading back to Fourth Street – making it the perfect interlude to a longer walk.

Greytown has the Soldiers’ Memorial Park where the grand old totara trees stand guard over the play area and campground. Take a short walk through the neighbouring O’Connor’s Bush and you’ll find rangiora leaves as large as dinner plates.

Featherston is spoilt for choice. Featherston Domain provides an energetic climb rewarded with views of the town below and the Wairarapa Moana beyond. Or you can take a short walk around Barr-Brown Bush Reserve, just down the road. Dorset Square is also worth a visit to see the acrobatic troupe of tui who love the plentiful kōwhai trees.

Though you won’t find any urban bush reserves in Carterton and Martinborough, a quick stroll through Carterton’s Carrington or Sparks Parks or along Martinborough’s Palliser Vineyard Walk is just as good. Or you could explore a bit further afield and visit Fensham or Carter Scenic Reserves.

Now you know where to find your local ‘Secret Garden’ – get out and explore!


A special thanks to local councils and the hard working community groups who look after these precious green urban spaces.

Dorset Square – Moore Street
Featherston Domain – Revans and Bell Streets
Barr-Brown Bush Reserve – Underhill Road

Carter Scenic Reserve – Gladstone Road
Fensham Reserve – Upper Belvedere Road

Soldiers’ Memorial Park and O’Connor’s Bush – Kuratawhiti Street

Millennium Reserve – Corner of Hillcrest and Pownall Streets
Manuka Reserve – Manuka Street

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of the Wairarapa Journal