We sat in silence, in awe, of what might be the world’s biggest tree, standing before us in the moonlight in a deep dark forest called Waipoua. This was Te Manua Ngahere, the Father of the Forest, the oldest known Kauri tree which started as a tiny seed 4000 years ago. Its majesty and immense size deserved this brief moment, after we had been told by our Maori guide Bill ‘no matter how small, everything belongs.’ That includes the bugs, the flowers, the birds, us, and of course, that tiny seed.
Walking in the woods at night let us hear the sounds of the forest, and feel almost like we had it to ourselves. But of course, we were not alone. We first heard the call of the Tui, the black bird with white neck that signals it’s time for many forest creatures to sleep. Then the male Kiwi, the country’s iconic flightless symbol, which we learned, are much bigger than the little stuffed ones you see in the airport. They actually come up to your knee when they aren’t down on the ground searching for grubs.
Bill walked with us before the sun went down through a series of trails, open and over boardwalks, taking us past the massive black ferns, one frond of which is as long as a man. These were the perfect backdrop when the BBC filmed their TV program about dinosaurs here, unnaturally large plants, just one of more than 200 species of ferns that thrive here.
There was so much to learn about the Kauri trees, beginning with how to say it. It’s KODY, sort of like the word Maori is pronounced with the roll of the r. Bill revels in his job as teacher, ambassador to his beloved ancestral forests, and he said that many of his fellow Maori are developing tourism as a good way to earn a living in this part of the country where jobs are scarce. There are only about 1000 people in this area of the Far North, as it gets narrower and narrower there are fewer businesses. Winter, he said, can be tough, cafes close up and never reopen.