Riverside park all his own work

BRIEF RESPITE: Arch Duncan, the creator and caretaker of Annie’s Park, at the Motueka Valley picnic spot.
BRIEF RESPITE: Arch Duncan, the creator and caretaker of Annie’s Park, at the Motueka Valley picnic spot.

You won't find Annie's Park on any maps and you don't even have to blink to miss it: your eyes should be on the one-lane bridge next to it.

Given that the park is on the well-travelled West Bank Rd in the Motueka Valley, it is less a secret than it is hiding in plain sight.

Google turns up just one reference to it - on a Dutch backpacker site - and the man who created the park, looks after it and lives across the road from it says that he doubts many people even in nearby Motueka know of it. But those who do tell him it is "peaceful place" and Arch says that was on his mind when he created it, clawing some calm space out a patch of wild weeds on the banks of the Motueka River.

Arch Duncan is a Coaster who moved to the Motueka area 23 years ago.

Now retired, he worked as a service station forecourt attendant for many years.

His late mother Annie Perano lived in the tiny cottage where he now lives, as did his late brother Jim.

Eleven years ago, Jim got very sick and Arch spent a lot of time at his mother's house helping care for him.

"He had Alzheimer's and what not. I used to hang around and on my days off, I'd hang around here and work on it", Arch says.

He cleared and burned a patch of about 3000 square metres which was choked with gorse, broom, bracken, and blackberry. The weeds were so thick that one day he drove his old David Brown tractor into a two-metre high boulder because he couldn't see it. It is now a feature of the park.

The boulders that dot the park are a remnant of when the Rocky River, which flows under the adjacent one-lane bridge, ran through what is now the park, as shown on a 100-year-old map Arch has.

The park is on Tasman District Council river reserve land but apart from a few conversations with the late David Stebbings, formerly a council building inspector, Arch says he has had no official contact about the park.

"I just mucked about and cleared it and nobody said anything."

Once it was clear, he planted about a dozen trees, and several self-seeded wattles have sprung up as well. He put in a few picnic tables and when a mate was about to throw out a pair of old Adirondack chairs, he rehabbed them and put them in the park too.

It is a Fish & Game access point to the Motueka River and is well-used by anglers, (many of them German or American, Arch says), drivers from Christchurch resting on route to Golden Bay, and the occasional freedom camper.

Arch says they always clean up after themselves and the only rubbish he finds is an occasional beer bottle - "but never any full ones, sadly".

The park has become popular with groups of cyclists doing a loop from Motueka up one side of the valley, across the Alexander Bluff bridge and down the other.

A Wednesday night group often stops for dinner there, Arch says.

He spends about eight hours a weeks mowing and maintaining the park, work which he calls a hobby and which he does "because people get enjoyment out of the park".

His mother loved the spot and he named it in her honour.

She died the year after he created the park.

The Nelson Mail