Te Matua Ngāhere, Aotearoa's second-largest Kauri tree. © Kim Westerskov

Waipōua Forest


Kauri forest once covered over 1.2 million hectares of the North Island, from the mid-Waikato northward.

Trouble was, it was such beautiful woodworking timber that much of our mighty podocarp forest was quickly turned into spars for British warships or consumed by the Victorian residential housing boom.

As a consequence, there are only sad remnants of the majestic kauri forest left and only glimpses may be had today of what our country would have looked like before the coming of the axe and the crosscut saw.

Two areas where you can get a sense of it are in Northland on the Kauri Coast leg of the Twin Coast Discovery Highway touring route.

The first you come to driving north is Trounson Kauri Park at Aronga, near Dargaville, where you can see and learn about the ecology of the kauri forest, including the shy critters that live there – fearsome-looking wētā, the kauri snail and the North Island brown kiwi. At nearby Matakohe, there’s the Kauri Museum, which has displays on the days of the exploitation of kauri – the timber and the gum industries that were for a while the mainstay of the Northland economy.

Further north, there’s Waipōua Forest, internationally famous as the most representative remnant of the great kauri forests of pre-European times. We’re pretty lucky to have it.When the government was finally prevailed upon in 1952 to set aside a forest sanctuary of 90,000-odd hectares, the axemen and sawyers were already eyeing it and sharpening their blades.

Yakas treet, Waipōua Forest

Yakas tree. © itravel NZ Creative Commons

The highlight of a visit to Waipōua, a short walk from the road along a track and boardwalks – essential to protect the delicate feeding roots of kauri from the trampling feet of visitors – is the awe-inspiring Tāne Mahuta, the largest kauri tree remaining in the world. At 17.88 metres from the ground to the first branch, and the tips of the uppermost branches waving in the breeze at 51.5 metres overhead, that’s pretty big! But the truly impressive aspect of the Lord of the Forest is his girth: his pale bole measures a massive 13.77 metres.

The statistics can’t prepare you for the sight, nor can photographs. It isn’t easy to get your head around the fact that this tree has witnessed the entire human history of Aotearoa and was already a mature tree when Christ was a mere lad.

You’ll go away determined to plant a kauri and to be very careful about where.

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