Expedition in New Zealand - 2013

The land of Maori

The land of Maori, always pictured as one of the last pristine natural realms. Three month of exploration through the north of the island, working with local enterprises on forests and gardens management. In the end, we had to surrender: its beauty and uniqueness was destroyed long ago, by the first colonizers and their greed.

Location and members of the expedition

Waipoua Kauri forest reserve, North Island, New Zealand, Oceania.

"New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The sovereign state geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui), and the South Island (Te Waipounamu)—and around 600 smaller islands."

"New Zealand's climate is predominantly temperate maritime (Köppen: Cfb), with mean annual temperatures ranging from 10 °C (50 °F) in the south to 16 °C (61 °F) in the north. Historical maxima and minima are 42.4 °C (108.32 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and −25.6 °C (−14.08 °F) in Ranfurly, Otago. Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to almost semi-arid in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland."

"New Zealand has many forest parks . About 30% of the territory is protected."

New Zealand in numbers

  • Surface: 267.710 km2

  • Population: 4.578.900 ab. (estimated at March 2015)

Source: Wikipedia
  • Andrea - scientific Head (Italy)

  • James - local botanical specialist and tree climber (New Zealand)

  • Luke - tree climber and coordinator (England)

  • Pietro - tree climber (Italy)

  • Elia - tree climber (Italy)

  • Federico - tree climber (Italy)

  • Alessandra - photographer (Italy)

  • Doria - logistics manager (Italy)

The main figures

Travelled distance: 5.131

Duration of expedition: 3 mesi

N° of measured trees: 21

Main places explored: 3

N° of surveyed tree species: 9

The tallest tree climbed: 69,20m

The biggest tree: 16,79 m girth

The oldest tree: over 2000 years

Site n° 1

Waipoua forest, Wekaweka. North Island, New Zealand, Oceania

Explored area: Waipoua forest

Region: Wekaweka

Waipoua forest preserves some of the best examples of kauri forests left in New Zealand.
It is known for keeping two of the biggest existing kauri trees:, Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere.
Te Matua Ngahere,is the hugest for girth and the second biggest for volume one can find in New Zealand. It is estimated to be from 2.000 to 3.000 years old.

General information

  • Surface: 3.189 km2

  • Population: 43.959 (2006)

  • Average temperature: 20 °C

  • Average rainfall: 1.400 mm.

  • Local economy: Agriculture is the leading sector of Economics, followed by wood and wine industry.

Source: Wikipedia, WWF

The giant trees of Waipoua forest in New Zealand 

"We went searching for Maori ancestors in one of the rare existing sanctuaries, with proud and frail spirit, so as to get closer and measure them respectfully

01. Agathis Australis "Tane Mahuta (The Lord of the Forest)"


  • Volume 244,5 mc - free trunk height 17,7 meters
  • Name: Tane Mahuta Lord of the Forest
  • Common name: Kauri tree
  • Scientific name: Agathis Australis
  • Girth: 15,44 m
  • Height: 46,2 m
  • Estimated age: 2000 years
  • Site: Waipoua Forest (Wekaweka) New Zealand

02. Agathis Australis "Te Matua Ngahere"


  • Volume 208 mc - altezza tronco libero 10,21 m probabilmente l'albero più vecchio della Nuova Zelanda e forse il più vecchio albero al mondo di una foresta pluviale tropicale.
  • Name: Te Matua Ngahere
  • Common name: Kauri tree
  • Scientific name: Agathis Australis
  • Girth: 16,79 m
  • Height: 37,3 m
  • Estimated age: 2500 years
  • Site: Foresta Waipoua (Wekaweka) New Zealand

Site n° 2

Mangapehi, South Waikato, North Island, New Zealand, Oceania

Explored area: Mangapehi

Region: Waikato

Located in the North Island Waikato borders with Auckland region and the Pacific ocean to the north, with Bay of Plenty to the east, with Hawke's Bay, Wanganui-Manawatu and Taranaki to the south, with Tasman Sea to the west.

It is one of the hottest regions in New Zealand, with an average daily temperature of 20°C.

General information

  • Surface: 25.598 km2

  • Population: 413.100 (2011)

  • Average temperature: 20 °C

  • Average rainfall: 1.150 mm.

  • Local economy: agricuture, wood and wine industry are the leading sectors in the Distric. There is also a coal mine.

Source: Wikipedia, worlddata.info.

The giant trees of Mangapehi (South Waikato) New Zealand 

"Venturing through the wet canopies of Mangapehi forest, south of Waikato, we began to look for the giant”

03. Podocarpus Totara "Pouakani (Totara)"


  • Pouakani is the oldest tree of his kind in the world
  • Name: Pouakani
  • Common name: Totara
  • Scientific name: Podocarpus totara
  • Girth: 12,18 m
  • Height: 42,7 m
  • Estimated age: 1800 anni
  • Site: Mangapehi (Sud Waikato) New Zealand

Site n° 3

Cascades Kauri Regional Park (Auckland) New Zealand

Explored area: Cascade Kauri Regional Park

Region: Auckland

”Auckland is one of the 16 regions of New Zealand, and consists of the metropolitan area of Auckland, the countryside and Hauraki gulf Islands”

"This is by far the area with the highest concentration of economic activities all over the country"

General information

  • Surface: 4.894 km2

  • Population: 1.495.000 (June 2016)

  • Average temperature: 20°C

  • Average rainfall: 1.250 mm.

  • Local economy: Tourism, agriculture and industry are the leading sectors of the District.

Source: Wikipedia, worlddata.info.

Giant trees of Cascade Kauri Regional Park (Auckland) New Zealand

04. Agathis Australis "King of the Forest (Kauri tree)"


  • Kauri tree is probably one of the tallest of its kind worldwide, the first branch is at the height of 19.30m
  • Name: King of the Forest
  • Common name: Kauri tree
  • Scientific name: Agathis Australis
  • Girth: 9,7 m
  • Height: 46,4 m
  • Estimated age: 1000 years
  • Site: Kauri regional park (Auckland) New Zealand

The expedition

Timeline: the most significant moments in the Land of Maori


14th of October 2013 Departure

When we started organizing this expedition we were full of expectations: in front of us 4 month of work in one of the last extreme frontiers for tree-climbers. We wandered “Will the ancient Kauri and the giant Totara let us approach them?”


17- 21 october 2013 First obstacles

We experienced the first difficulties dealing with Kiwi’s pragmatism on one side and Maori’s spirituality on the other. The everyday language reflects this duality and we necessarily had to learn the name of trees in local jargon.


22 October – 29 November 2013 Reconnaisance

It took more than one month for our “Indiana Jones” to study the “Kauri tree with the golden wood”, as the shreds of untouched Kauri forest left are small and spread all over the North Island.


30 November – 9 December 2013 Everything’s ready

Andrea has finally conducted all the necessary surveys to detect the places where we will measure and study; Metrosideros, Kauri and Totara, typical trees of the local flora. But we will also come across sequoias and eucalyptus, that found here a favourable climate for growing.


10 - 21 December 2013 The team

The rest of the crew now joined Andrea. In order to become familiar with different environments and feel comfortable using the brand new tools we measured the highest sequoia of New Zealand and over 60 meters tall eucalyptus, using the direct tape drop method.


27 - 30 December 2013 Totara

After spending the night hanging on the rooting branches of ancient Metrosideros in our hammocks, we faced the oldest and greatest Totara in the world: 11 meters girth and 1800 years old.


3 - 10 January 2014 Kauri

Climbing these trees is not practicable: despite the old age their bark stays thin and frail. It is recommended to take every possible care not to infect the delicate roots and tender sprouts. To avoid introducing deadly pathogens simply walking through the forest we disinfected clothes and equipment, and finally climbed using special shoes (5 fingers). The preparatory work took us such a long time that the night caught us while we were still up the crown, and there we waited for the dawn to come.

The expedition - the story

Maori’s Land has always been promoted as one of the few untouched Realms of Nature left.


For 3 months we explored the North Island, cooperating with local enterprises dealing on woods and gardens management, but we had to give up on the idea of an untouched land: its beauty and uniqueness had been fatally compromised at the arrival of the first colonists and their greed. The once broad and ancient Kauri forests (Agatis australis) have been devastated and destroyed to sell all over the world its famous “golden wood” and the derivatives. Likely there is no other tree to have been exploited in every part like this ancient patriarch was. These forests once completely covered the North Island, being the viable tissue where local tribes moved and found sustenance. During their millenary existence Kauri tilled the volcanic soil, transforming it into soft and vial ground, modified the island climate through the constant transpiration of the crowns and, standing in their majesty, they could control the heavy wind coming from the Ocean, making it possible the building up of unique forest, with no alike for species and complexity.

The first European settlers noticed from the beginning those huge trunks, more than 4 meters large, standing to the sky with no branches and knots for at least 20 meters. Once cut those trunks revealed an incredible durability, without dehydration they remained unaltered and did not rotten due to a very slow growth.
These people immediately recognized the potentials of such a hard and beautiful wood, signed with golden fibres, and the possibility of producing incredibly large and long boards, impossible to be found elsewhere.
Then they started a deforestation and exporting program, with no previous record of this kind. Million tons of Kauri wood are shipped daily to Europe and America. After cutting all the trees within the coast, the new lords of the island built long distance roads, in order to get to the inland forests, and there they plundered the woods form inside.

Some of the settlers noticed that climbing the living trees with spikes and axes they could get another product: the golden exudate the plant produces to repair the wounds, a sort of precursor of plastic. At that moment, they started to climb the beautifully straight but delicate stems hundred times, in order to collect as much juice as possible, until the plant would die. The large stump remaining in the forest were usually uprooted to get the briar and, in doing so, the workers realized that the ground was filled with small pieces of fossil resin: the most precious amber. Endless and deep trenches were then built, hand-dug by amber searchers, who explored the whole area where once the great Kauri lived, levelling the ground in the end, to make it suitable for sheep pasture. Digging out amber these people noticed that huge trunks coming from the primal forest could be found, buried in humus and time. Some of them were nearly 90 meters deep and over 40.000 years old: they were easily sold abroad by the famous name of “marsh wood”.

The few millenary Kauri left in New Zealand are since 100 years protected, but nowadays they cannot reproduce themselves and are more liable to get ill due to a sharp climate change, in a place where they were once undisputed rulers.

We wanted to explore Maori’s forefathers in one of the few still existing sanctuaries dedicated to them, as proud and frail as these people are, to get closer and measure them with respect. We have been the first to meet “Te Matua Ngahere” (Father of the Forest) in Waipoua Forest, one of the oldest living being in New Zealand: 16,70 meter in girth at breast height, and “only” 38 meters high after broke one of the upper branches in 2007. Then it was the turn of “Tāne Mahuta”(Lord of the Forest), which is today the hugest (in terms of volume) and most famous existing Kauri: 15 meters girth and 45 meters high, he sums 500 m3 in volume and represents the third greatest tree in the world having a unique trunk.
Then we moved to another sanctuary, the Cascade Kauri Park, to study some of the giant trees and climb at least one of them. We did it “bare feet” after disinfecting all, equipment included, in order not to injure the soft bark of the plants. To avoid any kind of harm to both tree and the numerous hosts, our ascent has been very slow and darkness coughed us half way up. We waited for the new day to come, nestled in the enormous hug of the branches protecting us from the cold winds coming from the Ocean, which that very night did its best to make us desist from proceeding.

The bright stars of the southern sky kept shining over us, a shining company through he dense canopy of Kauri. At the first light of the day we managed to reach the top, study and measure one of the greatest giants of New Zealand. We renamed it “King of the Forest”.


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.