Silent amongst the native birds and reptiles of New Zealand, lives the kauri tree. Although they are less well-known than the kiwi or the kea, the kauri are a symbol of New Zealand.
These majestic giants can be found in small pockets throughout northern New Zealand. They tower in the forests, like ancient giants.
Getting to witness their impressive stature is a must do during your visit to New Zealand.
The New Zealand Kauri Tree
It’s plain to see the beauty of these wooden giants.
They grow straight, up to 50m high. As the trees grow, their branches fall off until only the top most remain. This reveals the massive width of their trunks.
You wouldn’t be able to get your arms around half this tree!
Even if kauri aren’t the most populous tree in a forest, the area is often named after them.
Like the Tautara, a native lizard, the kauri trace their roots back to the time of dinosaurs. That makes them one of the most ancient trees in the world.
The Downfall of the Kauri
Kauri are a New Zealand coniferous tree. Once upon a time, they were plentiful throughout the country. Now, less than 4% of their 1800s population survives.
Like many new colonies, New Zealand was robbed of its forests. The Europeans logged kauri forests until few remained.
The kauris’ unique lack of branches made them ideal for ship building. The light golden hue of the fibres was prized for furniture. Even the gum was mined by the Europeans for varnishes and as fire-kindle.
The poor kauri were deliberately bled for their gum. Others had a kinder fate: being logged to become masts.
What were once ancient forests are now almost endangered.
Now, these once majestic forests are reduced to baby kauris struggling to match their ancestors’ size. The trees are still massively tall, but many trunks seem no bigger than a normal tree.
It shows that they still need years to catch up to their former glory.
It could be centuries before they reach their full size.
Although regulations to protect the trees were put in place a long time ago, the trees are still in danger. Now, they’re at risk of catching kauri dieback.
Kauri dieback is a disease threatening the kauri trees. It causes the leaves to go yellow, the trees to bleed resin and, eventually, the death of the tree.
If you’re travelling in New Zealand, you’ll often see areas to wipe off your shoes after or before hiking. This isn’t for mud: it’s to help prevent the kauri dieback from spreading.
After all they’ve been through, why wouldn’t you want to protect these gentle, Jurassic giants?
Where to See the Trees?
Kauri trees grow in the north of the North Island. There are a number of forests where you can visit them.
The NZ Herald recommends these top 4 spots to see kauri:
The Kauri Walk I went on lasted about five minutes, but that’s all it took to fall in love with these giants.
They reminded me of Tolkien’s ents – the living tree beings. But not of them specifically. More like, they’re wise ancestors who now watched over the forest.
Maybe I just spent too much time at Hobbiton.
Why Am I Telling You About Trees?
The kauri were a surprising favourite of mine during my explorations of New Zealand.
First, the kea nearly overshadowed the kiwibird. Now, the trees have outshone the other native flora and fauna of New Zealand.
This country is full of surprises – and unique indigenous species.
Spreading the word about these species helps keep them alive. It leads to protections being put in place and research being done to help them flourish.
I wanted to do my small part to share the story of one of the most ancient trees in the world (seriously, that’s so cool!).
Be mindful of indigenous species when you travel. Do what you can to help them survive – even if it’s just cleaning your shoes!
What native species did you fall in love with on your travels?