On steamy hot days, Saskia Stevenson takes refuge under the largest pohutukawa in Tauranga.
The seven-year-old climbs its gnarled old branches and picnics under the tree with her mum, Kristy Paddick, marvelling at its size.
Living across the road from the magnificent giant, gives Saskia one of the best playgrounds in the Bay.
Pitau Rd's Christmas tree in Mount Maunganui is one of the oldest in New Zealand _ its crimson blossoms having flowered for an estimated 400 to 500 years.
The large sprawling pohutukawa, pinched at the tips with clusters of bright red flowers, has significant meaning to local Maori.
City arborist Steve Webb, from Tauranga City Council, said in the early days of settlement, several skeletons of pre-European origin were located at the tree's base in kneeling ceremonial position.
Maori leader Kihi Ngatai (Ngaiterangi) told the Bay of Plenty Times that during Cyclone Bola several of the branches broke off but local Maori would not allow council to cut the tree, as the deceased were once hung from the branches until they decomposed. Their bones were then buried underneath it.
Mr Webb said council had gone to great lengths to preserve the tree _ the oldest in central Tauranga _ which sprawls across two sections and is listed as a "conservation zone".
The canopy measures 29m across and 12m to 15m in height.
Mr Webb said the pohutukawa was propped up in the mid-1990s with large wooden poles to prevent the tree from collapsing and many of the limbs were now touching the ground. Council has plans to re-stablise the tree soon.
As well as this spectacular tree, other parts of the Western Bay enjoyed impressive pohutukawa blooms at Christmas, including Mount Maunganui beach and Opo Bay at Mayor Island.
A pohutukawa located at the southern end of the bay is enclosed by a fence, and was the resting place for warriors who were lost in battles that took place on Mayor Island.
The tree is known as Nga-uri-apo, meaning descendant of the past, and despite once being partially damaged by fire, it survived but is not as large.
On Tauranga's Cameron Rd, yellow flowered pohutukawa originate from Motiti Island and are unique to the area.
"If there are any others in the country they originate from here," Mr Webb said.
Professor Paula Jameson, head of the University of Canterbury's School of Biological Sciences, said pohutukawa trees start flowering in mid-November and stop flowering by Christmas and New Year. Legend has it that if the pohutukawa flowers early, it will be a long hot summer.