A Twilight Walk with Forest Giants in the Waipoua Forest

Not many of us would think to walk in the forest after dark. There’s no good reason to do so in New Zealand other than, well, it’s dark! But tonight, we are about to discover why a walk in one of New Zealand’s most significant forest, the Waipoua Forest, is a must at twilight! We join Footprints Waipoua for an evening for a cultural and natural experience.

Tours don’t start off easier than being picked up right outside your accommodation. We meet our Maori guide for tonight, Merepaea, who only has us to show the forest to tonight. We’re getting our own private tour! That’s one of the perks of travelling in the shoulder season in New Zealand – make a note! After meeting and greeting, we hop into the Footprint car for just a quick drive to our first stop.

Looking over the home of Kupe

We arrive at a stunning lookout overlooking the Hokianga Harbour. This is the ideal place for Merepaea to tell us the story of the first ever Maori explorer to discover New Zealand. She tells us the legend of Kupe who arrived here in Hokianga and called it home for 60 years. We don’t blame him! There are beautiful sand dunes on one side of the harbour, not to mention a harbour full of seafood. On the side of the harbour where we stand now, this used to be covered in lush kauri forest before a mass migration to New Zealand saw much of Northland’s forests demolished to make way for farming. It is about these kauri trees that we are going to learn more about tonight, while seeing the forest giants for ourselves.

As we come to the end of the compelling story of Kupe, who left taniwha, sea monsters, to guard the harbour, Merepaea says a prayer in the language of te reo Maori to protect us during our travels. It’s a beautiful way to end a story so compellingly told.

Epic sunbeams across the Hokianga Harbour Epic sunbeams across the Hokianga Harbour
Merepaea shares the Maori legends of Hokianga Harbour Merepaea shares the Maori legends of Hokianga Harbour
A high-tech kauri dieback cleaning station A high-tech kauri dieback cleaning station
Merepaea tells shows us the kauri band aid, kauri gum Merepaea tells shows us the kauri band aid, kauri gum

Preparing to see the largest kauri tree in New Zealand

As we drive toward the Waipoua Forest, we get to know Merepaea a little better and also make a plan of what we are going to see tonight. Usually, the Footprints tour would visit some stands of ancient kauri trees starting from “smallest” of which to the largest. However, since it’s just the both of us and we like to take photos, we decide to visit the largest kauri tree in New Zealand first. Merepaea explains that Tane Mahuta is the name given to the largest of kauri trees after the Maori God of the Forest. He certainly has the godliest of all forest entrances with a grand sign at the walkway entrance, as well as the most flash shoe-cleaning station we have ever seen! Unfortunately, kauri trees are under the threat of a disease called kauri dieback, so very often on walks into kauri forests in New Zealand you will find some shoe-cleaning equipment. Here, Tane Mahuta has a high-tech cleaning station with brushes, sprays and absorbing rugs build into a platform.

Meeting the “Lord of the Forest”

At dusk, the forest is quiet. Not a single sound but for our foot steps on the boardwalk. Merepaea breaks the silence with a chant in te reo Maori. This creates an atmosphere of real importance, reinforcing that we are about to see something truly amazing. Merepaea keeps our attention to the back of a rounded platform, then turns at the last moment where… There it is, Tane Mahuta. Wow! Even after building up all this suspense, we are still awe-inspired by this incredible tree. The white-barked tree of 13.77m in girth and 51.5m in height dominates the forest, especially as the day is turning to night.

Another viewing platform allows us to get another perspective of the “Lord of the Forest” while Merepaea sings a beautiful song about Tane Mahuta in te reo Maori.

Tane Mahuta: isn’t he just amazing!

Onward to Tane Mahuta Ngahere

We have seen the Lord of the Forest, but now it is time to see the Father. Tane Mahuta Ngahere lies a bit further along the Waipoua Forest, just enough time to make ourselves familiar with audio recordings of native New Zealand birds which Merepaea plays in the car.

When we arrive at the entrance to many kauri foreest walks, we clean our feet in the fancy cleaning stations, and head deep into the now pitch-black forest. Merepaea came prepared with torches for everyone, so no stumbling in the dark is necessary.

Medicinal plants to giant CARNIVOROUS snails

Along the way, Merepaea shows us various medicinal plants that her ancestors were using. We also learn more about the incredible trees we are seeing tonight, such as their way to “mend” themselves using kauri gum. She as shows us a kauri nursery, explaining the life cycle of these trees that take hundreds and even thousands of years to grow. Right next to the tiny twigs of the kauri nursery is another type of forest giant: the kauri snail! Yes, the large carnivorous kauri snail just peaks its gooey body out of its huge shell. As it doesn’t look like it wants to move, we move on ourselves making note to check its progress on the way back.

From kauri giants to fern giants From kauri giants to fern giants
A kauri snail! A kauri snail!
Tane Mahuta Ngahere looks over the forest under the stars Tane Mahuta Ngahere looks over the forest under the stars

Hongi with a kauri

Until then, we continue on a boardwalk past stands of impressively large kauri that Merepaea insists are just “seedlings”. The closest kauri to the boardwalk gives us the opportunity to give it a hongi, which is a Maori greeting with the pressing of the nose and head.

Seeing “The father of the forest” under the starlight

Past the seedlings, we can see that the boardwalk is coming to an end, meaning Tane Mahuta Ngahere is near. He might not be considered the biggest but his size still blows us away. He might be shorter than Tane Mahuta, but he is much wider at 16.4m. That’s without mentioning his age! This guy is around 3,500 years old! He is so old that he actually has other trees growing on him. Plus, with the stars twinkling behind him, a tree couldn’t look more epic.

Snail missions and pesky possums

Sure enough, on the way back out of the forest, we see that the snail has been on a mission, it’s body fully out and at least half a metre from where he was. He hides his body as soon as we get a closer look though, so we leave him to it. We now can hear the tiny native owls, ruru, calling through the forest. Unfortunately, we don’t here the calls of the famous kiwi birds, but that becomes apparent when we encounter about three possums. These introduced pests eat their way through the forests destroying habitats for native birds. The quietness of the forest only reflects the problem.

On that note, we head back through the night to our accommodation where we thank Merepaea for sharing her stories and culture with us tonight. We can hit the sack dreaming of forest gods and meat-eating snails!

Laura and Robin

Trees don't get older and wiser than Tane Mahuta Ngahere
Trees don't get older and wiser than Tane Mahuta Ngahere Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read yesterday’s post about checking out a waterfall and finding a hidden puzzle world? How about these articles?

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See you tomorrow!

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