Sunday, 12 April 2015

Visiting New Zealand's Forest Giants in Waipoua Forest

White skeletons stand out starkly among the green of the Waipoua Forest - they are dead kauri trees. As if the tree-felling, milling, gum collecting and land clearing weren't enough to put this giant tree in danger, sadly they are now succumbing to a silent fungus-like disease called kauri die-back.
White branches indicate kauri die-back

A long overdue visit to the far North, meant that it was close to 20 years since I last visited the forest giants Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere as well as the Four Sisters. Because kauri only grow in the north of the North Island they seemed exotic to us, rare beings, even then there were only a few giant specimens standing. Still the forest appeared lush and the kauri mighty.

Today the giant Tane Mahuta (52 metres high) and Te Matua Ngahere are still impressive.

Te Matua Ngahere 

More than that, where before I only saw kauri, not knowing many forest plants, now I see so much more in this forest. There is flowering white rata, ferns, epiphytes, orchids and trees of many different species. This is a classic Conifer-Broadleaf forest.
white rata vine with kauri behind

small ferns, grasses and epiphytes abound

And yet the even here, skeletons of white kauri stand out in the forest. They are succumbing to Phytophtora taxon Agathis (PTA) spread through soil movement. Once infected nearly all trees die, and thousands have died in New Zealand. Normally these trees can live for over 2000 years.

Kauri are the only species of the conifer Agathis native to New Zealand. Even in New Zealand its range is restricted to the warmer north, although planted specimens grow in botanical gardens in the south. They grow over 50 metres tall with girths (trunk circumference) of over 16m.

Kauri bark
Everywhere we went on our walks through the forest, we sprayed our feet at the special disinfectant stations, wanting to do all we could to prevent the disease spreading.

We also learned that it was important to stay on the track or boardwalk, to avoid trampling on the sensitive roots and around the trees.

Unfortunately, scientists haven't yet figured out a cure, so it is likely that trees will continue to die. Which makes it even more important that we take measures to protect them. Some areas have even been closed off to the public to try to stop the spread of the disease. It would be sad if the beautiful Waipoua Forest had to be closed to the public, sadder still if this beautiful forest lost the very tree that makes it special.

Read more about what action you can take to prevent the spread here -
 Keep Kauri Standing: Kia Toitu he Kauri.

More information:
Department of Conservation Kauri
Department of Conservation Waipoua Forest

For another story about tree giants, see Pilgrimage to a Tree