|Kauri from Trounson Forest, near Waipoua Forest.|
With seven years as a kid in Malaysia, the slightly odd pairing of a simultaneous love of jungle and skyscrapers almost seems in my DNA. Normally people love one and hate the other – I love both. That doesn’t mean I like stubby dumps like the 12-17 storey doozies (Zest, Harvard, Volt etc) that dot the not-tall-enough Auckland CBD and unfortunately that’s what most Kiwis think of when they think “skyscraper.”
Instead, I’m talking about the stunning architectural wonders more in the 30-70 storey range which dominate the skylines and CBDs of places like Vancouver, New York, Frankfurt, Brisbane, Sydney, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and of course for me, Kuala Lumpur.
Auckland will get there one day and one-star apartment buildings and 80s bulldozers put to the side, this city’s CBD has arguably never been better with the redevelopment of places like Wynyard Quarter, Elliot and Fort Streets and against the odds, Britomart (as well as decent skyscrapers like Metropolis and the Vero and ANZ towers). As for jungle, the most alike New Zealand gets to our equatorial cousins is considerably closer than our skylines. I went in search of the most “jungly” part of the country and came away far more impressed than I ever imagined.
Heading north to Northland’s “Kauri Coast” this past week, I had two nights at the Waipoua Lodge. A 5-star property on the edge of the Waipoua Forest, hosts Ian and Fran gave me what amounted to 6-star hospitality.
|Bessie the kune-kune pig.|
The property is a grand old homestead with four additional buildings housing luxurious suites. The suites are both outstanding and historic (converted wool sheds 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 the massive DVD collection, Ian’s comprehensive top-shelf and Fran’s exceptional culinary abilities. Indeed, if you are a wannabe chef, Fran’s kitchen is about the best setting for a cooking school you could imagine.
Armed with anecdotes and recommendations from Ian and Fran about what best to do in the area, I explored the underrated Trounson Kauri Park on my own and the better-known Waipoua Forest with the help of conservationist Steve King and tour-guides Shane and Matthew from the company Footprints. Footprints operates out of the Copthorne resort on the edge of Hokianga Harbour – a spot reminiscent of Norfolk Island vegetation-wise, coupled with Fraser Island-like sand-dunes. Most New Zealanders don’t even know this place exists.
Lonely Planet describes the three hour Footprints Waipoua Forest tour as one of the best eco-related excursions you can do anywhere in the world and standing silent at the foot of some of the largest trees on the planet it’s not hard to see why. Tane Mahuta (the largest kauri tree in the world) has both the gold medal for size and the easy to remember name to attract the most attention, but it was the lesser known Te Matua Ngahere (“Father of the Forest”) which really blew my mind.
Estimated at 3000 years old, Te Matua Ngahere is the world’s second largest kauri, but is substantially girthier than Tane Mahuta and most crucially, 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 is an almost spiritual experience.
For Maori, it is a fully spiritual experience and with a mixture of mythology, prayer, song, humour and history, Footprints provide a soundtrack so much more than just looking at a couple of big trees.
Perched just within what constitutes as a subtropical latitude, Northland was once covered in nothing but these kauri forests, but the lure of their prized timber and gum has reduced the province to just two percent of its original forest cover.
Thankfully an outright ban on kauri felling has been in place for some decades and the rewards of careful replanting schemes are slowly being seen. But what really makes it all hit home is looking at a spindly kauri that turns out be 60 years old. Easily chopped down, if you leave them long enough they become so wide as to look the stuff of fairytale. All of this is explained in careful detail at Matakohe’s Kauri Museum – approximately half-way between Auckland and the Waipoua Forest.
As with many holiday destinations, there are the particulars that really set a place apart, but sometimes it is the simple things that attracted you to go in the first place which really linger. I wanted lush, green, untamed-looking forest that would remind me of the kind of jungle I took for granted as a kid in Malaysia. I found it in the Waipoua Forest.
But that said, most people want to know about Ian and Fran’s pigs at the lodge! All I can say is Holly and Bessie are a great couple of gals and I apologise for being so lame at hand-feeding them. A city-boy who loves jungle, but still a city-boy.
|My room at the Waipoua Lodge.|
|The Waipoua Lodge living-room and bar.|