It is a strange conifer typical of this Island, but generally spread in the southern emisphere. In the North Island though there seem to be the tallest and oldest Podocarpus totara in the world. We ventured and searched for this tree, whose measures in bibliography were conflicting and with an uncertain position in the maps. Maori called it Poukani.
We started to look for it in the humid forest of Mangapehi. Luckily enough in New Zealand poisonous insects and animals do not exist, that’s why one can easily enter the dense forest without taking over precautions. Quick rainfalls are followed by a warm sun, and then a thick fog raising through the foliage. The wet path is easy to find, though less used, and despite the risk of falling down under the weight of heavy rucksacks, immersed in a slippery mud, we move very fast.
Actually the great Totara seems to have grown on a private property and, as we didn’t reach the owner, we are not allowed to measure it in tree-climbing. The members of his team are quite concerned about it, but Andrea keeps comforting them: “We won’t cause any damage, and our job will be light and fast”.
It is very unusual to come across a barbed wire while walking through a forest. But this is exactly what happens when we get in front of the impressive trunk of Poukani.
It is an immense tree, with an astonishing, impressive trunk. Its grey bark tends to fall apart lengthways, the trunk is heavily ribbed and holds great branches covered with bromeliads: we are impressed by its force. Unlike Kauri trees its bark is robust and not easy to damage. In any case, we decide to use again the FiveFingers to climb it up. Andrea made his decision: only two people will enter the fence, the others will help taking measures and photos from the outside. The throw line goes up fast, Pietro and Andrea measure the girth, more than 12 meters at breast height, and fix the rope. A “Kiwi” sneaks up from the forest asking what we are doing. We tell him we are an exploring team, travelling around the world to study and measure giant trees. Our explanation probably did not persuade him, but he remains there watching Andrea while he rapidly ascends and disappears in the crown, at about 20 meters height. Throwing up the line from here he goes higher and higher, while Pietro helps from below. Everyone holds their breath: the major risk now is that a bromeliad stump collapses over one of the two climbers. These “shrubs”, hanging without roots, could weight over 100 kg, and they often may lead to accidents falling over people.
Anyway, Andrea learnt how to avoid the risk and climbs up to the top as limber as a cat. In the meantime, Pietro reached the castle, and Elia replaced him as “man down”. From outside the fence Alessandra and Doria try to record the measurement steps. Unfortunately under the rain, they realize both the batteries of go pro and, shortly after, of the camera are gone.
“Who was the one in charge of taking extra batteries?” is the scream to be heard from above the forest. But, it fades without answer in the crackling of rain, with the singing of frightened birds. No point in getting angry. The three man go on measuring the height. The tree is not that tall, a bit higher than 40 meters, but it is a perfect, unique ecosystem above the rest of the canopies. After cutting a totara, Maori used to immediately plant a new one in the same place, in order to preserve the woodland and avoid offending “Tane”, the protecting god of the forest. Another destiny for Poukani: for sure it has been always respected and worshipped, and this is probably why “Tane” prevent us from taking pictures of its incredible crown, even though it allowed two white men to taste its fragrance.