Northland: Dwarfed by immensity

By Tim Roxborough

Torn between a high-rise holiday and jungle, Tim Roxborough found both in one place.

Hokianga Harbour. Photo / Tim Roxborough
Hokianga Harbour. Photo / Tim Roxborough

In going for a domestic holiday, Northland's self-described "Kauri Coast" sounded like a goer. It's home to the most jungly, tropical-looking forests in New Zealand with trees that are virtual skyscrapers.

I chose Waipoua Lodge, right on the edge of Waipoua Forest, to stay at and was pleased to find a five-star property with two hosts in Ian and Fran who pride themselves on six-star hospitality.

The lodge is a grand old homestead with four buildings of luxurious suites. These are large, tastefully appointed and historic (converted woolsheds, etc), but it is the main house with its stand-alone brick fireplace, pioneer-influenced artworks and forest views that really make it. Not to mention a DVD collection in the hundreds, Ian's comprehensive top shelf, and Fran's exceptional culinary abilities. If you are a wannabe chef, Fran's kitchen is about the best setting for a cooking school you could imagine.

Armed with recommendations from Ian and Fran on what's best to do in the area, I explored the underrated Trounson Kauri Park on my own and the better-known Waipoua Forest with conservationist Steve King and tour guides, Shane and Matthew, from Footprints.

Footprints operate from the Copthorne Resort on the edge of Hokianga Harbour. It's less fashionable than the Bay of Islands on Northland's other coast, and most Kiwis don't even know it exists.

Lonely Planet describes the three-hour Footprints Waipoua Forest tour as one of the best eco-related excursions in the world and, standing silent at the foot of some of the largest trees on the planet, it's easy to see why.

Tane Mahuta (the world's tallest kauri ) has the gold medal for size, but it was the lesser-known Te Matua Ngahere ("Father of the Forest") that really blew my mind. Estimated at 3000 years old, it is the world's second largest kauri, but is substantially girthier than Tane Mahuta and about a thousand years older. In the middle of such dense, wild bush, sitting at the foot of a tree so otherworldly massive and so uniquely straight up, it's an almost spiritual experience.

For Maori, it is fully spiritual. With a mixture of mythology, prayer, song, humour and history, Footprints provide a soundtrack so much more than merely looking at a couple of big trees.

Northland was once covered in these kauri forests, but their prized timber and gum has reduced the province to just 2 per cent of its original forest cover.

Thankfully, the rewards of an outright ban on kauri felling and careful replanting schemes are slowly being seen. What really makes it all hit home is seeing a spindly kauri that turns out be 60 years old. Leave them long enough and they become so wide as to look the stuff of fairy tales. All of this is explained in detail at Matakohe's Kauri Museum, about halfway between Auckland and Waipoua Forest.

As with many holiday destinations, there are the particulars that set a place apart, but sometimes it's the humble things that first attracted you that linger.

I wanted lush, green, untamed-looking forest that would remind me of the jungle I took for granted as a kid in Malaysia, and I found it in Waipoua Forest.

Tim Roxborogh stayed courtesy of Waipoua Lodge.

- Herald on Sunday

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