June 25, 2024

Green Giants: New Zealand’s most famous trees

New Zealand is known for our sheep, our scenery, and our commitment to sustainability - but our little island is also home to some pretty impressive trees! Next time you’re planning a road trip, put some time aside to visit one of these natural wonders.

Our biggest tree: Tāne Mahuta 

“I have stood at the huge buttressed feet of Tāne Mahuta … it must have supported entire dynasties of lizards and invertebrates who never went anywhere else and must have thought, if they could think at all, that Tāne Mahuta was the whole world.” 

- British natural history author, Colin Tudge

New Zealand’s biggest and most famous tree is the giant kauri Tāne Mahuta, whose name means ‘God of the Forest.’ Tāne Mahuta attracts over 50,000 tourists every year, providing a tourism boost for Northland and introducing generations of local and international visitors to the magnificence of our temperate rainforest.

You’ve heard of sister cities, but did you know that Tāne Mahuta was one of the world’s first ‘sister trees’? In 2009 it was partnered with Jōmon Sugi, a 5,000-year-old cedar located in Yakushima, Japan, in a world-first initiative. The Family of Ancient Trees partnership between Northland and Yakushima aims to support environmentalism and tourism in both regions. 

Tāne Mahuta is estimated to be over 1,250 years old, and conservationists are making sure that it stands tall for many years to come. During in a significant drought in 2013, over 10,000 litres of water was diverted from a nearby stream to make sure the giant kauri would survive!

Our oldest tree: Te Matua Ngahere

Just a short walk from Tāne Mahuta stands Te Matua Ngahere, New Zealand’s oldest tree. Although Te Matua Ngahere is smaller than Tāne Mahuta, its stout trunk means it still has a very imposing presence! 

Te Matua Ngahere - or ‘Father of the Forest’ - is estimated to be over 2,000 years old, with some estimates placing the giant kauri at over 4,000 years old. 

If you’re visiting Northland, it’s well worth taking the trip to see these two forest giants. Remember to stay on the walking track; Te Matua Ngahere may look invincible, but kauri have very sensitive roots and foot traffic around the trees can shorten their lifespan.

Our tallest tree: a young Aussie import

Our biggest and oldest trees are native to New Zealand, but our tallest tree comes from across the ditch! New Zealand’s tallest tree is a mountain ash that stands over 80m tall (30m taller than Tāne Mahuta, and 15m taller than our tallest native tree, a slender kahikatea found near the Waikato’s Kaniwhaniwha Caves).

This tree grows in the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, just north of Dunedin. Compared to our forest giants, she is a relatively young tree, originally planted in 1870. This mountain ash could grow up to 120m and live for another 100 years, so it’s unlikely that she’ll be giving up her title any time soon.

Honourable mention: our largest pōhutukawa

Standing under the spreading branches of a pōhutukawa in full bloom is one of the most Kiwi experiences we can think of, and there’s nowhere better to do it than in Te Araroa, Gisborne.

Te Waha o Rerekohu – ‘the mouth of Rerekohu’ – is our largest pōhutukawa tree, and is at least 600 years old. Its 37-metre span means its branches could comfortable shelter an Airbus A320 plane, or a fully-grown adult blue whale!

Te Waha o Rerekohu is currently battling myrtle rust, with the local community and environmental groups rallying to prevent the disease spreading and monitor other local trees. 

It’s a timely reminder that our environment, from our showstopping forest giants to small-but-significant urban plantings, is worth looking after. 

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