Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back in the Bush

Kauri Tree
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Pohutukawas, those fancy New Zealand Christmas trees, aren’t the only unusual native trees you’ll find when you RV or travel by auto north of Auckland. You’ll soon notice New Zealand’s bush– a dense indigenous forest. In Northland, with its warm climate and moderate rainfall, you’ll find conifer-broadleaf forests and many tropical shrubs and plants.

In lowland forests, rimu, a red pine and the broadleaf tree, taraire are among the forest canopy that protect the many tropical trees, shrubs and flowers. New Zealand’s palm tree lives in this protected tangle of growth as well as several kinds of tree ferns, colored fungi and ground orchids.

The swamp forests have fewer tree species and the tallest trees are kahikatea– conifers that look similar to rimu. A tall flowering tree, the pukatea has a base of thin triangle flanges to support it in the soft swampy
ground and breathing roots like mangroves to bring air to its soggy roots.

Kauri-broadleaf forests can best be seen when you return down the west side of Northland. We passed the turnoff for SH12 on the Mangawhai Heads post. SH12 swings west, comes up the coast through Dargaville and cuts into SH1 again near the Bay of Islands. If you’ve come this far, you want to visit Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest north of Dargaville. Tane Mahuta– Lord of the Forest– was discovered in the 1920's when SH12 was surveyed through the Waipoua Forest. New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree, according to Maori legend, Tane is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. It’s a short walk under a forest canopy to visit Tane. And an experience you’ll never forget.

Kiwis call their forest the bush. At one time when the moa, that huge flightless bird, roamed New Zealand, 80% of the land was covered with trees. The Maori arrived from the Society Islands (Hawaiiki) some time around the 14th century eager to escape food shortages and war. They cleared land, planted their kumara plants and used the kauri to make wakas-- war canoes. By the time the Pakeha arrived in the 19th century, 50% of New Zealand was still native forest. A dense tangle, the Europeans compared it to a tropical jungle and called it bush.

Kauri Forest
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Because kauri floats, it was popular for shipbuilding. The tall straight timber made excellent masts. The gum that oozes from mature trees to repair injury was used in varnish and linoleum. By 1900, most of the forests had been cut down. Today, the kauri forests are protected.

While you’re traveling through Northland, enjoy the bush. Park your RV or auto and wander around. But, stay on the track. If you just have to go bush-bashing– tramping around off the track-- take a Kiwi who knows his way around. Your Boy Scout training won’t help a bit. In the bush, the moss doesn’t grow on the north side of the tree. It grows up and down and all around. If you do catch a glimpse of the sun through that tangle of trees in the sky, it’s not in the south where it belongs. If you really want to get away from it all by yourself, carry enough food for at least a week. The load will slow you down enough you won’t wander far from the marked path. When you’re down to your last Snicker bar and still have no idea where you are, sprawl out in the ferns, gaze up the nearest tree where you’re sure the sun is hanging around up there somewhere and thank your lucky stars there’s no creepy crawly biting things in New Zealand.

Lyn Harris

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