Ben Rudd's Property - Flagstaff
Ben Rudd's Property and the Ben Rudd's Management Trust
Ben Rudd was a well-known Dunedin farmer and gardener at the turn of the twentieth century. He owned and farmed land at his property "Woodside" at the top of Rudd's Road, from 1890 to 1919. In 1919 he sold his farm and retired for a short period to Dunedin city. Finding urban life unbearable, in 1921 he purchased a 45 ha (112 acre) block of land on the northern flank of Flagstaff and lived on this property until just before his death in 1930, at the age of 76.
Ben Rudd, with Otago Tramping Club Members (1920's)
Ben was intolerant of trespassers, claiming at one time that up to 100 trespassers a week were causing him considerable annoyance and damaging the property.
Otago Tramping Club ("OTC") members first encountered Ben Rudd just three weeks after the club was formed in September 1923. Two parties set out on a day trip to Whare Flat. One party reached its destination successfully, but the other was stopped and warned off by Ben Rudd. Scott Gilkison was one of those cut off, and recounted his feelings of alarm as they encountered the stocky, bearded man with a shotgun as tall as himself. As a result of this, the Club arranged with Ben Rudd that he would cut a track through the manuka scrub, thus providing a route to Whare Flat while keeping members well away from Ben's property. For this he was paid five pounds, a considerable amount of money in those days. The track was well-used for the next 11 years until it was blocked by extensive scrub fires in 1935.
Ben Rudd in front of Hut on his property (1920's)
As time went on, Club members came to be on friendly terms with Ben Rudd. After his death his hut continued to be a very popular area, with the added benefit of gooseberries and raspberries in season.
Ben Rudd at hut - site of current day Ben Rudd Shelter
In 1946 Ben Rudd's land became available and was bought by the OTC. The club's committee learned only by chance that the Rudd property was available, and - significantly - it was probably the only property in the area not already owned or spoken for by the Dunedin City Corporation (DCC). There was concern that the DCC would take over the property as part of the water reserve and limit public access, but luckily a city councillor and a senior DCC staff member were also Club members and the situation was resolved.
The transaction, although undertaken by the committee without reference to the general membership was enthusiastically endorsed at the next AGM. The money for the purchase was loaned by Mr W Stevenson, who later refused to accept repayment; a generous gesture that has long been appreciated. Big snows in 1939 and 1945 prompted the building of a private ski hut and ski run on the property, shortly after the purchase by the OTC. It was never used for skiing, as the snow conditions prompting this initiative failed to recur, but was later taken on by the OTC as a Club hut and was popular for day trips, birthday and Christmas parties (unfortunately, being close to town the hut was regularly vandalised; and in 1970 it was finally removed).
Around the same period, ornamental trees such as Bruce Campbell's rhododendrons were established. Then, from 1950 several thousand radiata pines were planted in a bid to help develop the area as a source of income for the OTC. This planting activity curtailed in 1973 due to a lack of widespread buy-in to tree maintenance by Club members. Tree-pruning workparties were supported by a small core of young members who tried to make them as much fun as possible.
Tree Planting on Ben Rudd's Property with string-line
Similar location to tree planting photo above, in 2015 (Mt Cargill in background)
The present concrete block shelter, a more robust alternative to the original hut, was completed in 1973. Ross Davies remembers the hut workparties as a "social phenomenon", although "the way these gatherings degenerated, probably many of the participants do not remember them too well".
Ben Rudd's Shelter in 2015 (Ben's old hut was slighty above and to the left of the current shelter)
An accidental fire in Flagstaff Reserve in 1976 destroyed over half of the 1971 Douglas fir plantings, and further damage was caused by the hastily bulldozed firebreaks. In the early to mid 70s, most of the remaining young firs had been pulled out by members.
In 1988 the committee commenced negotiations with the Ministry of Forestry, with the goal of removing all the mature pines. The main plantation was largely (but not entirely) felled in early 1989. The Club received some money for the trees, so the venture was not completely fruitless, but it was a sum that disappointed many. This money was (and remains) ring-fenced for the Ben Rudd's property.
With the removal of the pine trees, attention turned to controlling gorse and broom, and other unwanted weeds, and restoring native vegetation. In the early 1990s, huge workparties of several dozen members and family were held, which were very effective at keeping non-native plants under control.
Around this time the DCC Water Dept planned to develop roading around its water reserves, and it was only the OTMC's refusal to allow a road through Ben Rudd's which prevented a Bullring-Swampy road. It was not impossible to imagine the road going right around to Pulpit Rock which by then had been accessed by a bulldozed farm track from the Mount Allen road.
Ben Rudd's Management Trust
In November 1997, the Otago Tramping & Mountaineering Club (OTMC, as it had been called since 1971) held an Extraordinary General Meeting to determine the future of the Ben Rudd's property, as there was a range of conflicting views within the Club. Following this, in 1998, the Ben Rudd's Trust and the "Friends of Ben Rudd's" support group were established.
Since inception, the Trust has focused mainly on the battle against wilding pines, gorse, broom and other pests, and on revegetating the area with native plants. Trial silver beech plantings among the pine stumps in 1990 were successful, and from 2000 regular plantings of beech seedlings (sourced from Flagstaff Creek) began, with the aim of re-creating an area of the original beech ecosystem. Much of the property is now regenerating kanuka/broadleaf forest. Above the firebreak, the narrow-leaved snowtussock grassland is being restored, in keeping with the Flagstaff Scenic Reserve that borders it.
The Trust arranged for the OTMC to apply for a QEII National Trust Open Space Covenant. This was granted in September 2002. The management plan that accompanies the Covenant stipulates various practices be adopted. Accordingly, the Trust is using only locally-sourced vegetation for regeneration. It is a part of the arrangement that some natives immediately around the shelter at Ben's hut site can be cut, and rhododendrons that are not prone to spreading can be tolerated.
The Trust has good relations with the DCC, which assists, among other things, with grants from available biodiversity funds, and continues to hold working bees to maintain and develop the property. On 25th August 2013, the OTMC held a picnic at the shelter to mark its 90th anniversary, which was attended by around 100 people.
Directions (download map and brochure here)
From the Bullring carpark, walk 30 minutes up the firebreak track to the cairn (and silver beech cluster) on the left marking the top of the access track to Ben Rudd's hut site and shelter. It is 15 minutes down to the clearing where you will find this pleasant spot for lunch and can see the foundations of Ben Rudd's hut.
There is a visitors' book at the shelter, inside a clear plastic container. Please sign it to show you have visited. This helps the Trust gain a record of usage of the property which can be used in applications for funding for their ongoing restoration work.
The Trust and OTMC owners actively encourage full public access to the entire property but, in keeping with the adjacent scenic reserve, do ask that vehicles or dogs not be brought onto the land except upon the firebreak track itself.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Ben Rudd's Management Trust click here or email <email@example.com>- you will receive information about the property, open days, picnics and work parties