The kauri is a type of native tree, characterized by extremely straight and thick trunks; so much that Maori used them to carve their boats and Europeans for the masts of their great sailing ships. Older specimens measure up to 50 meters high and have an imposing crown of upper branches, widely dominating over other vegetation.
These trees are among the longest-lived in the world; many of those that reach maturity live more than 1000 years. They exist only in the north of the country and the best example is the Waipoua Forest, which remains intact for 150 million years. Other areas were not so lucky: 96% of this type of forest has disappeared by human deforestation since 1820, as each one of these huge ancient trees used to provide its owner the money equivalent to 100 NZ $ when being sold for firewood … $ 100 for a 1000 years old and 50 meters high tree… I’d better not comment any more.
Waipoua Forest has the Kauri Walks to be explored, free self-guided tours, perfectly marked, some with boardwalks, through areas where large specimens congregate. In the south is the Visitor Center, where in addition to all kind of information, guided tours are offered for NZ $ 25; you also have the option of planting a kauri for NZ $ 180 to compensate those ancient millenary that were sold for what today would be NZ $ 100. They give you the coordinates of your tree by GPS.
There are seven paths, although one is currently closed. They are different in length, all easy except the last one:
- The Tane Mahuta or “God of the Forest”, is located one kilometer away north of the entry point of the rest of the Kauri Walks. Duration 5 minutes (one way) without difficulty. The biggest Kauri alive today (there are measurements of others of similar height and much wider perimeter, more than triple, all disappeared during the 20th century), with an unknown age, estimated between 1200 and 2400 years, measures 51 meters high and 14 perimeter. I must say I personally experienced something like a religious experience in front of that tree, although is not the larger, thicker or older I have ever seen. It was more than to be contemplating something that impresses you, it seems like the tree is looking at you. I think it’s the closest thing on this planet to those trees in Hayao Miyazaki films.
- Te Matua Ngahere. The second kauri by volume, 27 m high and 16 in circumference. 20 minutes each way, difficulty easy.
- The four sisters. Four kauris that have grown very close. 10 minutes one way, easy.
- Yakas Walk. In this area the trees are smaller, so there are fewer tourists. 40 minutes one way, easy.
- Toatoa. To see other vegetation, 10 minutes one way.
- Lookout track, 1 hour each way, difficult. It begins at the Visitor Center, but since most tourists goes directly to the north, is a good choice for a stroll. 2.5 hard kilometers in the forest ending in a gazebo (which can also be reached by car).
For treehuggers, the main trees are fenced. Further north, near Mangamuka, there are other forest with smaller kauri that were allowed to approach to.
Currently, it is very restricted due to the Kauri dieback, a disease affecting the trees, they can become infected by people stepping on tree roots, so in all areas visitors are requested to disinfect the soles of their shoes in buckets before entering the paths and not get too close to the trees.