Northland: Old Bones of Trees and Rocks

After traveling to the end of the world, we were uncertain as to whether we could muster emotional energy for more splendor. But then, yes—we’ve become gluttons. We wanted to see it all.

From our base camp at Hokianga Harbor, we set forth on a tramp through the Waipoua Forest, the dwelling place of what’s left of NZ’s oldest kauri trees. The hushed cathedral-like sanctuary is a mere fragment of the hundreds of thousands of acres that once clothed the region.

After European settlement in the mid-1800s, kauri timber and kauri gum built huge fortunes and fleets. By 1885, half the Northland’s kauri forest was gone; by 1900 another quarter disappeared. In a major victory for NZ’s fledging conservation movement, milling was virtually halted a few years into the 20th century. With re-planting, the kauri are ever so slowly coming back.

One of NZ’s most revered tourist stops is enshrined here. Tane Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest,” was part of our decision to make a pilgrimage north. It is the world’s largest and oldest kauri tree. (That’s Kenton in the photograph, a tiny blob of red, standing in front of the magnificent creature.)

True—the California sequoia is older and taller, but the girth of the kauri girth trumps the sequoia. The 2,000 year old Tana Mahuta, for example, has a girth of 3.77 metres and a trunk height of 17.68 metres, and total height of 51.5 metres. Nearby, Te Matua Ngahere “Father of the Forest” has a girth of 16.41 metres and height of just under 30 metres.

Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but people in these parts speculate that other colossal specimens are still alive, hidden in dense foliage of difficult terrain. The Maori revered kauri and used the straight grain, honey-colored timber for their giant canoes. The tree is a member of the araucaria family, which includes the Northfolk Island pine and the monkey puzzle of the Andes.

After the forest, we headed inland to see the Wairere Boulders. This mile-long canyon valley is a geologic phenomena. Equally phenomenal is the discovery of these stunning basalt formations by a Swiss couple who didn’t have a clue.

Four years after purchasing the property in 1984, they stumbled onto the fluted boulders, while chasing wild goats with their dog through dense native bush. Ten years ago, they built footpaths, designed interpretive signs and opened the area as a nature park. It is sensational. And, we had it all to ourselves.

The basalt boulders were formed by two lava flows, beginning about 2.8 million years ago, followed by erosion of the valley floor. Their fluting is the result of tannins released into the acidic clay soil by buried Kauri trees, thousands of years ago.

Apparently, there is no evidence of another geologic assembly like this in anywhere else in the world. My pictures don’t even come close to doing them justice; the link is loaded with great photos and information if you’re interested.

As if these spectacular rock formations weren’t enough, we turned back to the Hokianga Harbor for our last treat of the day. The Koutu Boulders are reminiscent of the spherical concretions we found at Moeraki on the South Island.

But, as it turned it, our last treat of the day was chocolate mug cake. Our Globe Trekkers Lodge hostess Sue made this special for us when we returned for the evening. Your reward for reading this post is the recipe (see the next blog post).

Continue Northland: Chocolate Mug Cake

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