Early colonists regarded Papanui Bush (also Referred to as Papanui Wood) as a pleasant resort on holidays, and was celebrated for its many dells and shady vales. It boasted an abundance of forest birds that were regularly snared for ‘kai’ (food). As such, the word ‘papanui’ translates to the Maori word for ‘a platform in a tree from which birds are snared’.
At certain time of the year the bush abounded with wood pigeon/keruru and kaka, and settlers would pass the time by shooting teal, paradise ducks and grey ducks from their verandahs. This was at a time when the area was covered by a large stand of forest, dominated by tōtara, mātai, kahikatea and kānuka trees.
There are also accounts of red pine (rimu) being present at Papanui Bush, however while rimu occurs naturally both north and south of Christchurch, its original presence in Christchurch needs further investigation.
Papanui Bush generated a thriving timber industry in the early years of European settlement. So thriving in fact, that in 1857, sawmilling at Papanui had attracted a population 692 compared with 953 in Christchurch itself.
Due to the pressing need for building materials in Christchurch, Papanui Road was one of the first roads built outside the city boundaries. The ‘Papanui Bridge’ was also built over the Avon River in March 1852 to allow the timber to be brought by bullock drawn wagons directly into the Market Square near the city centre.
The milling of this area in the 1850s rapidly demolished the entire 30 hectares of bush that was standing.
The original site of Papanui Bush is the present day Papanui Domain, located off Sawyers Arms Road. A small native garden and a mural painted on the nearby community hall today commemorate the great forest trees that once dominated the area. (CCC 1998).