There are many wonderful things to do in New Zealand, but one of the most important is to make a special visit to the Waipoua Forest, one of the remaining great kauri forests of the North Island. Waipoua is north of the capital city, Auckland, and on the west coast can be found this cathedral-like, green world of mighty trees, that create a unique environment.
Waipoua is the most famous of New Zealand’s kauri forests, and this is because it is home to three-quarters of all surviving kauri trees, including the mightiest of them all –Tane Mahuta, and Te Matua Ngahere. So special are these trees that they have their own names.
Tane Mahuta is the largest specimen of kauri in existence and bears a noble Maori name, which, in English is, Lord of the Forest. Tane was the son of the Earth Mother and the Sky Father in Maori mythology, and all the inhabitants of the forest, the plants and the birds, are his children. Tane Mahuta is a precious tourist attraction, easily accessible as it is only a few minutes walk from the road, and during a recent drought, when the great tree showed signs of moisture stress, many thousands of liters of water were brought in to relieve it from dehydration. Tane Mahuta, when measured 40 years ago, had a girth of over 45 feet and was 168 feet high; he is believed to be still growing! Even older is the kauri named, Te Matua Ngahere, or Lord of the Forest, which is reckoned to be an amazing 2,000 years old.
The kauri is the third largest tree in the world, following the North American Sequoiadendron, and the Sequoia; kauri forests are among the world’s most ancient, remaining forests. The kauri is a conifer, or pine tree, with a smooth, grayish bark; the young sapling grows up quite straight, narrowly conical in shape, and as the tree ages to, say, beyond a century, the lower branches begin to fall away from the trunk and the upper branches form a great crown at the top of the tree. Leaves are copper-colored on the young tree, narrow in shape; these become thick, green, wide leaves in the more mature tree. The bark flakes off, constantly, so that forest vines and epiphytes find it difficult to attach themselves to the smooth trunk. The trees seem to rise up, straight, from the forest floor, towering over smaller trees around them.
This unique tree now grows in only a few forests and native reserves in the sub-tropical, northern part of New Zealand’s North Island. Long ago, they grew in great numbers, but the European settlers of the 19th century, and the local Maori people, cut them down, for their use and to clear areas for farmland. The very workable wood was prized in ship building and much of the felled timber found its way to Europe and America, where the long lengths of wood, as well as their unusual strength, made the kauri very desirable.
Sadly, the majestic kauri are now found in only a very few northern reserves, where they are treasured and protected. Many visiting tourists pay homage to the mighty Tane Mahuta and leave New Zealand with a developed awareness of the need for conservation, and a lasting awe for the kauri that remain.