Where am I?

How to Recognize Kauri Trees from Quite a Long Way Away

May 10, 2006 at 11:34 AM | categories: New Zealand | View Comments

Bursting with seafood chowder, I take my leave of the funky fish, table, and kitten to journey into darkest Waipoua. Around me I hear native drums.

Oh wait - that's just a Cal Tjader recording called "Soul Sauce". I have four or five CDs with me, as part of my regular travel kit, and my trusty Nissan Rattletrap has a CD player. I believe that this model is sold as the "Hamsterwheel" in the USA.

nissan rattletrap

Yep... traveling as much as I do is worth it for the perks. Why, when I told the Hertz agent in Auckland that I was a "Gold" member with "#1 Club" status, he replied "Do what?".

The Rattletrap is an automatic, with a lusty 1.8L engine. Apparently they rent stick-shifts here, but I thought it would be wise to spare the much-troubled inhabitants of New Zealand the double scourge of having me on the proper side of their roads (mostly) while also trying to shift with my left hand. We'll save that for the next trip.

Anyhow, my Rattletrap and I are at the scenic vista above the Waipoua kauri forest. This area has been a forest sanctuary since 1952, when the NZ logging industry ran out of easily-felled kauri and into the brick wall of public opinion. That's a good thing: the logging industry in the US can barely manage to sustain weeds like cottonwood, plus various pines and firs, much less slow-growing ancients like redwoods or kauri.

Speaking of kauri, have we seen any yet? I have a vague idea of what the wood looks like, but are they those piney looking things over there? Or what?

Luckily, someone's planted a memorial tree at the scenic vista, and the plaque says it's a kauri. That's good enough for me.

memorial kauri

Does that help? I climb up into the lookout tower to try and spot more kauri. Didn't Shannon used to live in one of these towers? scenic vista scenic vista scenic vista scenic vista, plus ocean

We're very close to the west coast of the North Island, so we can see the ocean from here. I know we're looking west, because the sign says so. Or maybe it's just graffiti? WIBSTR!

Back on the road, I realize that there's been a mistake. I'm actually in the California gold country, just outside Murphys. Ignore that fern growing in the red dirt.

red dirt country

Next stop is the Waipoua visitor center. They're fresh out of brochures, but they're willing to lend me a chainsaw. There's one under the counter in the kauri exhibit, just in case a tourist wants to try his hand at some amateur logging.

visitors center chainsaw

I demur, and drive onward. A few km to the north is a sign for "KAURI WALKS", so I turn left onto a gravel road, and park. There's a sign. It's gist is "That's a nice looking car you have there: it'd be a shame if something were to happen to it." I pay NZ$2 for that protection, and pull on my hiking boots, The trail map says that it's about 15 minutes to the Four Sisters, and another 15 minutes to Te Matua Ngahrer (gesundheit!). I later find out that they've timed this journey using a one-legged stoat.

After a few minutes walk through scrub brush, the forest begins. It might be a mistake to call it a kauri forest... the predominant flora seems to be the ubiquitous silver fern. But there are kauri trees, too. In fact, there are many more kauri in this forest than there are giant sequoias in our California groves. Soon, I'm seeing kauri everywhere. silver fern kauri canopy kauri trunk Here are the Four Sisters: since kauri reproduce by dropping fertilized cones, this is bound to be a common phenomenon. The amazing thing is that these four siblings have lived so long without choking one another to death. Humans manage this by living apart.

four sisters

Kauri foliage is fairly distinctive: it looks more like eucalyptus that pine, and it's the most effective way to spot kauri from a distance.

kauri foliage

There's plenty of junk growing on a living kauri, but look at what happens once it dies! It's easy to see how swamp kauri happens. living and dead

Walking on, we glimpse Te Matua Ngahrer for the first time. It's big. It's really big. Who wants to check the vital statistics against our specimens of sequoia giganticus? glimpse of Te Matua Ngahrer Te Matua Ngahrer plaque Te Matua Ngahrer canopy Te Matua Ngahrer trunk Walking back to the car, I realize that there are kauri all around me. I can now recognize them close up, from the bark, and quite a long way away, from the foliage. They are immensely tall and have very straight trunks: I suppose a tall tree must start out very straight, or else it'll topple over when still very young. kauri bark kauri foliage kauri from quite a long way away kauri from quite a long way away Back in the parking lot, I notice two things. First, the man who blackmailed me into paying him to watch my car is gone. And there are much stranger folk in the forest than I. Normally I don't make fun of other people's failings, but - oh, who am I kidding? use the farce

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