Ancient trees of New Zealand’s far north

Kauri trees Coming, as I do, from the northern hemisphere (well, partly at least) – a place with the name “Northland” conjures up images of icy pinnacles and wind swept glaciers. A place where frost rimmed yaks roam frozen wastelands, and explorers battle immense hardship to conquer peaks.

For New Zealanders however, the further North one goes, the warmer it gets. And the warmest place of them all is the far flung tip of the North island, stretching from Auckland up to Cape Reinga, where instead of snow and ice, one finds pure white sandy beaches, enormous sand dunes, towering ancient trees, and bays full of islands.

We spent a few days touring this region – which has to be one of the finest areas to spend a Kiwi winter. The temperatures remain a happy distance from the sub zeroes we encountered down on the South Island, and the variety of scenery on offer is truly wonderful. Today I want to talk specifically about the mighty Kauri forests of this region, home to some of the worlds most ancient trees.

The Kauri forests

New Zealand’s northland is the only place in the world where the New Zealand Kauri tree can be found. These mighty trees are amongst the most ancient in the world, and specimens surviving today are thought to be up to 4000 years old.

Kauri forest canopy

Four thousand years is a very long time for a tree to have been around, particularly given man's penchant for destruction, so visiting these trees, found in small pockets of preserved forest, is an absolute must.

There are a large number of Kauri trees to marvel at, but two stand out giants remain, last of the surviving ancient trees. Others, supposedly larger, were destroyed, either by man or natural events such as forest fires.

The largest survivor today is Tāne Mahuta – the “Lord of the Forest”. An epic name for an epic tree. This chap currently rocks out at around 42 metres in height, with a diameter of five metres and a girth of fifteen and a half metres. Numbers aside – this is a tree which truly dominates his surroundings, wearing his title with dignity. It’s hard not to be just awed when looking at the majesty that is this tree.

Tane Mahuta Kauri Tree

Next up, in the mighty tree stakes, is Te Matua Ngahere – the “Father of the forest”. Again, a name which this tree wears with grandeur. Whilst not quiet as high as Tane Mahuta, Te Matua is believed to be the oldest living Kaori tree, and possibly the oldest rainforest tree in the world, at up to 4000 years old. He sits on a massive trunk nearly five and a half metres wide and sixteen and a half metres in girth, with a total height of nearly forty metres. Boggling stuff.

Te Matua Ngahere

There are, of course, a number of other truly epic looking trees to marvel at in this area, but none of them come close to the sheer majesty that these two trees offer.

I have seen other, much taller trees, in my travels, including trees in Tasmania that top out at close to a hundred metres in height. Those trees however do not seem to carry with them the weight of ages past that the Lord and Father of the forest bear, nor the sheer immensity of trunk that just defies the mind.

The Kauri forests, for visiting purposes, are on the western coast of New Zealand’s Northland, and there are many more trees than the two mentioned here. All are easily accessible via forest paths, and there is an excellent visitor information centre with all sorts of knowledge on these behemoths. Then, if you want even more knowledge, a visit to the Kauri museum in Matakohe has a wealth of knowledge on mans relationship with these trees.

So those were the Kauri forests. Absolutely worth taking the time to visit. Next in Northland I’ll be talking about the giant sand dunes of Te Paki, and the spiritual tip of New Zealand: Cape Reinga.

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