We spent one sunny day on the west coast of the North Island looking at the remaining kauri trees in the Waipoua Kauri Forest. We also got our first look at the Tasman Sea. The drive from Opua on the east shore of North Island to the forests on the west shore is spectacular. It is mile after mile of rolling green pasture. We kept thinking that the colors would eventually fade, but they didn’t. We have never seen so many shades of green. And sheep… There are a lot of cattle, but there are sheep everywhere.
The road wound around a bit, and it meandered up and down the hills, and it even crossed a few one-lane bridges as it made its way west. It met the Tasman at Hokianga Harbor in the town of Opononi. We parked at a “scenic point” to get our first look at the Tasman, and we also had our first experience with parking guards. These are people that sit at busy parking sites, and they watch your car for you for $2 (are these the same people that break in to your car if you don’t pay them?). We were wandering only a few feet from our car – still within view – so we did not pay this particular guard.
The Tasman was calm, and we both commented that we would need a little more wind to sail. We might regret those words this time next year.
We headed south along the west coast of North Island to see the Waipoua Kauri Forest. The first stop we made was to see one particular tree – Tane Mahuta – named for the Maori god of the forests. Tane Mahuta is the tallest surviving kauri tree at more than 176 feet tall. It is estimated to be 1200 to 2000 years old. Then we went a few miles further down the road to see the Four Sisters and Te Matua Ngahere - the father of the forest. (And, yes, we paid the parking guard here.) The Four Sisters are just four large trees that are somewhat unique in how they have grown clumped together. But Te Matua Ngahere is a really big tree. The trunk of this tree is over 16 feet in diameter, and it is likely the widest and oldest kauri in New Zealand (probably 2000 years old).
Possibly the most interesting part of the forests are the paucity of large remaining trees. It is hard to imagine miles of forest full of huge kauris, but that is what the loggers found and removed. These few trees will probably be salvaged, but the forests are gone forever.
From there we went a bit further down to the Visitors’ Center which was actually quite interesting and informative. And we also found a nice place along a running river to eat the lunch we had packed.
The drive home was just as beautiful as the drive there. The late afternoon sun cast a few shadows, and if anything, it was even more dramatic. The kauris were nice, but the grazing land between the two coasts was spectacular!