Our final full day in Northland was centered on the Waipoua Forest (pronounced wy-PO-U-ah) of Kauri (pronounced COW-ree) trees. This forest contains the oldest tree in New Zealand, Te Matua Ngahere (“Father of the Forest”, pronounced TAY MAH-too-ah NAH-hair-ray) and the largest tree in New Zealand, Tane Mahuta (“Lord of the Forest”, pronounced TAH-nay mah-HOO-tah). This day was a wonderful wandering through beautiful forests (often called “bush” here in NZ) in rather pleasant weather.
Though the rains fell hard and long during our drive both here and return, the weather let up for us while we walked along the very well maintained tracks (trails) and elevated boardwalks. Because the roots of kauri trees are sensitive, fragile, and shallow, simply walking on the roots can kill the trees. So, the preserve trust constructed and maintains elevated boardwalks through most of the route.
The 80 square kilometres (31 square miles) of the Waipoua Forest were set aside in 1952 to protect some of the last remaining virgin Kauri of New Zealand. It is estimated that only about 5% of the original kauri forests remain today, since the wood and gum of the tree were highly valued. Also, because the trees were so large, it was easy to cut a lot of wood from each one. However, also because of the size of the trees, transporting the logs was extremely difficult, and there are still hundreds of old logs stuck in riverbeds. One of the easiest methods of transporting the kauri logs was to dam up a river, haul the logs to the river, and then release the pent up water to flood the logs downstream.
Our first stop in the Waipoua Forest was to walk the five minutes to Tane Mahuta. As we stood looking at the massive tree, Andrew asked me how these trees compare to the Sequoia trees (which he has never seen) of central California, back where we used to live in the Sierra Nevada. I wasn’t sure on the specs, but I was fairly certain that the Sequoia are the largest trees (in volume) of all trees in the world. A quick internet search confirms this fact, and the US National Park Service website has a table that shows that of all the trees in the world, Kauri are the fourth thickest (Tule Cypress in Mexico is first, Sequoia is second), the fifth tallest (California Redwood is first, Sequoia is fourth), and seventh largest in volume (Sequoia is first, with the largest Sequoia, the General Sherman, tree having over five times the volume of wood as the largest Kauri, Tane Mahuta). … But trust me, these Kauri are BIG, and there are quite a few of them in this area.
We then drove a few minutes south
to the car park (parking lot) for the track to the Four Sisters, Te Matua Ngahere, and Yakas Kauri (7th largest Kauri, track closed when we were there). The walk to the Four Sisters is all on dirt and metal (gravel) and is relatively level. The Four Sisters, though much smaller than the other kauri giants, are amazing in their proximity. The four trees share roots, and there is probably not more than a couple metres between any two of them. An elevated boardwalk encircles them, so that you can view them from all sides.
Continuing along the main track to its end, we finally came to Te Matua Ngahere, the oldest tree in New Zealand. Because the bush is thick, it is difficult to get a clear photo of Te Matua Ngahere, but it is still well worth the walk, especially because the track takes you through virgin kauri forest with many other smaller and younger trees, as well as the other native plants.
One thing to be aware of is sanitation of your shoes. Kauri Die Back is a disease (a water mould) deadly to kauri trees (but doesn’t bother humans) which is transmitted through soil. So, if you walk through an infected area and then go walk in an uninfected area, you’ll carry the disease with you and spread the infection. Our home area of Coromandel has been uninfested until just very recently. There is no known cure at this time. So, at the trailhead of most of the tracks, there is a sanitation station. Here, you’ll first brush the soles of your shoes and then squirt on a liquid disinfectant (usually Trigene) which kills the disease spores. Please take the minute or so to do this, to preserve the kauri trees of New Zealand.
The walk to Tane Mahuta takes less than five minutes each way, all on elevated boardwalk. The walk to the Four Sisters is about a ten minute walk each way, and continuing to Te Matua Ngahere adds another twenty minutes or so each way. We highly recommend taking the time to drive over here to the west coast of Northland and getting out of your car to explore and enjoy this native forest. There are also several other walks in the area.