I NUMERI PRICIPALI
Km percorsi: 5.131
Durata spedizione: 3 mesi
N° alberi misurati: 21
Principali località esplorate: 3
N° specie arboree censite: 9
Pianta più alta misurata: 69,20 m
Pianta più grossa: circonferenza 16,79 m
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.
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.
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.
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.
”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"
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.