Jim’s Walkway: This Russell retiree has spent two decades weeding, planting and walking his very own bush track

Jim Mowat fees ducks on Jim's Walkway in Tapeka, Russell.

A stroll a day keeps the weeds at bay along this walkway, created by two retirees in the Bay of Islands.

Words: Cari Johnson

“You can’t spend all your time fishing.” This was why Jim Mowat swapped his fishing rod for a grubber and how his retirement in Russell kicked off with a “fair bit” of weed-whacking in the bush.

“Fair bit” is a fair understatement. Twenty-two years later, Jim greets each morning with a stroll through a 350-metre bush track created by him and his wife, Barbara. Here he brushes past native trees (he once planted) and wetlands (he once de-weeded) to a duck pond where web-footed residents eagerly await their breakfast. Locals call it “Jim’s Walkway”.

Jim Mowat walks the track every morning, rain or shine.

In 1999, Jim stumbled on the unkempt council land near his home at Tāpeka Point. He and Barbara had just moved from Taranaki to the Far North, hoping for an idyllic retirement. Waging a daily war against gorse, wild ginger, pampas and “every weed imaginable”? Not strictly part of the plan.

That’s until retirement became a reality. “There was nothing else to do, so I figured I may as well chip away at it,” says Jim.

Turns out Jim found weeding rather amusing. Barbara, too, discovered joy in flexing her green thumb in the bush. She planted while her husband weeded, filling in the sparse areas with propagated cuttings of kauri, rimu and tōtara. She also sowed kōwhai and pōhutukawa from seed.

Metre by metre, the pair groomed the bush and dug a path. There were deterrents, certainly, such as a 40-metre-long gorse infestation across a wooden fence that took Jim years to clear. “No matter how big a job is, if you keep chipping away, you’ll get there eventually,” he says.

The community domino effect came in 2010. Once the Mowats (unofficially) opened the track, locals began donating their time or trees to plant. One newly retired resident, William Fuller, raised enough funds to extend the walkway across private land. It was owned by the Fladgate family, who happily donated their land to what became the Fladgate Nature Track, a 650-metre track extension named in memory of Nancy and Richard Fladgate.

Today, dozens of bug hotels created by primary school students offer cushy refuge to wētā and other scuttling passers-by. Jim’s Walkway has also become a favourite for children to hide painted rocks (“they shift them from one place to another”) and where visitors can sneak a peek at kiwi after dark. Jim estimates up to 70 people walk the track daily.

Jim Mowat and William Fuller together are the masterminds behind the extended Jim's Walkway in Tapeka, Russell.

Jim Mowat (right) with his friend William Fuller.

Although Barbara died six years ago, Jim has never slowed the momentum. Every morning the 88-year-old walks the track, which bears physical reminders of his wife’s legacy. Jim’s favourite spot is where they planted their very first tree — a baby rimu she gifted him at the start. “I must’ve chosen the right place because it’s now about 40 feet [12 metres] tall,” he says.

Locals were so chuffed they erected a badge of honour for Jim and Barbara’s work — a road sign bearing the track’s name. “I never thought anyone would use it. I used to think, ‘Why am I doing this? It has no interest to anyone else.

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“I’m happy everyone is getting something out of it,” says Jim.


An aerial shot of Tapeka Point in Russell.

Jim’s Walkway is a one-way bush walk from Tāpeka Point to the base of Russell’s historic Flagstaff Hill (via Fladgate Nature Track). The kilometre-long walkway starts at the northern end of Tāpeka Road near Du Fresne Place, marked by signage visible from the road.

The Mowats’ section (still owned by the council) of the walk merges with Fladgate Nature Track about 350 metres down the way, which ends at the intersection of Titore Way and Tāpeka Road.

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NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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