What is kauri dieback and why is it important?
As one of the largest trees in the world, the kauri is a point of pride for New Zealand. It is wrapped up in Maori legend, and is a popular Auckland tourist attraction – as well as one for locals.
Sadly, however, the kauri tree is plagued by a disease that has killed thousands of these forest giants in the last decade.
What is kauri dieback?
Scientists and conservationists spent a long time trying to understand the cause behind the death of so many kauri trees. In 2008, phytophthora taxon Agathis (or PTA) was formally identified.
PTA is specific to kauri trees alone, and it can affect a tree of any age.
Researchers are still working to understand the phenomena now known as kauri dieback, but for now it is known that an infected tree will almost certainly be killed, and that the spores enter the tree through the soil and roots, interrupting the flow of nutrients to the kauri.
Infected trees may lose their leaves, have thin canopies, show yellowing in the foliage or bleed gum at the base of the trunk, according to informative website kauridieback.
How can we avoid kauri dieback?
At this stage, there is no known treatment for the disease, but there are many things we can do on nature tours to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback.
While on a day tour to Tawharanui, we stop to show you one of these beautiful kauri trees. First, you will notice that there is a large boardwalk around the base of the tree. This is a measure that’s put in place around New Zealand to help protect the roots from becoming infected from spores on our shoes.
Staying off kauri roots, and on the walking tracks is a start, but during any eco tour around New Zealand you will notice small spray stations at the start and finish of any track. Here, you must spray and scrub your shoes with the tools provided to further help prevent the spread of the PTA disease.
Research into the matter continues, both with government pledges such as a $26.5 million fund set aside in 2014, as well as private donations from conservationists.
Top 3 medicinal native New Zealand plants
During a recent biking trip on the Waikato River Trail I met a Maori gentleman and his daughter, who were out collecting watercress for their lunch and to include in their ‘boil up’ dinner.
We began talking about the medicinal properties of New Zealand’s plants, and how many Maori traditions are passed down by the spoken word. Unfortunately, much of this ancient knowledge can be lost without written records.
Traditionally, the Maori used more than 200 native plants to deal with illness, including the kawakawa, flax, rata, kowhai and manuka – all important for healing as part of drinks, poultices or lotions.
Today, around 80% of New Zealand’s native flowering plants grow nowhere else in the world, which not only gives us wonderful opportunities for enjoying our forest and bush habitats, it also makes New Zealand home to countless unique forms of life and native food plants.
Here are just three of New Zealand’s plants commonly and traditionally used for medicinal purposes that you will see during an Auckland nature tour with Habitat Tours.
Medicinal uses of kawakawa
Kawakawa is a favourite here at Habitat Tours, and one we offer in our selection of teas while on tour.
The tea is refreshing, with a slightly peppery taste, and is said to be a great detox. When making this tea from raw leaves, you must only chose the ones with holes in them, as the bugs and insects only eat the non-toxic leaves, which is a great indicator for which ones are fit for human consumption. You would boil these holey leaves for 10 minutes, then strain.
The shiny side of the leaves also make for a good antiseptic, while the flipside is used in poultices for toothache. The leaves were also traditionally used in steam baths for sexually transmitted diseases, the vapour used for rheumatism and the root chewed to help cure dysentery.
Medicinal uses of manuka
Perhaps the best known of the medicinal plants is the manuka. Captain Cook used manuka leaves to make tea, which is where its other name, ‘tea-tree’, comes from.
New Zealand’s Manuka honey is sold worldwide and has been used medicinally since ancient times. More recently, it has been discovered that antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities are present in the honey. Since some honey can be up to 100 times more potent than others, all manuka is given a potency rating called UMF, with a minimum requirement of 5 UMF.
The bark of the manuka tree also has its uses, as it is a sedative. The bark ash has also traditionally been rubbed onto skin to help treat some skin diseases.
Medicinal uses of koromiko
Also known as hebe, the koromiko was the first NZ native plant to be listed in the British ‘Extra Pharmacopoeia’ as a cure for dysentery. During World War II, leaves were dried and sent to troops in Northern Africa as a remedy for this debilitating illness.
The Maori uses included a decoction for headaches, ulcers, sores, kidney and bladder troubles, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Interestingly, these three plants are all somewhat nondescript, but look a little closer and you will find many uses amongst their leaves, barks and roots. It truly makes you wonder what other hidden secrets some of these most uninteresting-looking plants may be hiding.
An insiders’ guide to Auckland’s volcanoes
Forget the City of Sails, Auckland was once very much the City of Volcanoes. It has a long history of volcanic activity that has shaped the mounded hills and troughs of the Auckland that we know and love today.
A short history of Auckland’s volcanic activity
Somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 years ago, volcanoes started appearing in the area that would become known as Auckland. Some of the oldest are Onepoto Domain and Pupuke, and the oldest within the city are most likely Albert Park and the Domain.
In total, there have been 48 active volcanoes in and around Auckland city in that time, all of which are within 20 kilometres of the city centre. Fortunately, the volcanic field is now dormant, with only a 0.001 per cent chance of an eruption in any given year, according to the Auckland City Council.
Here are three of the most notable dormant volcanoes in the region that each make for a popular Auckland tourist attraction.
Rangitoto Island casts an impressive silhouette against the harbour skyline, and has its roots as both the largest and most recent volcanic eruption in Auckland.
It erupted just 600 years ago, and according to Te Ara, Rangitoto expelled as much lava in one volcanic event as all other volcanoes combined. Translated, the name means ‘sky blood’.
Today, Rangitoto Island is a popular attraction you can visit for hiking and Auckland sightseeing trips. It is home to New Zealand’s largest pohutukawa forest, as well as more than 150 species of native trees and plants.
In 2009, the Department of Conservation began work to eradicate the seven pest species on the island. On August 27 2011, Rangitoto was officially declared as pest-free, which is why you can now hear saddlebacks around the summit, and see tuis, tomtits, whiteheads, bellbirds and other fantastic species around the island, making for an ideal Auckland birding spot.
To most Aucklanders, Mt Eden is a family friendly domain, with some challenging walks due to its steep incline.
While it is both of those things, it is also the tallest volcano in the Auckland area at 196 metres tall, and has three beautiful overlapping cones at the top. You can even look down into the crater, which is about 50 metres deep.
Mt Eden is also known as Maungawhau, and last erupted 15,000 years ago. In some places, the lava flow was 60 metres thick.
If you’re going on a tour in Auckland and visit Mt Eden, be sure to look out for the native bush life, which is still in abundance on the old lava flow at the Almorah Road section. Here you will find bush such as whau, karaka, pigeonwood, kohekohe, mahoe, puriri, titoki, karamu and rangiora.
The domain itself is protected from damage by the Historical Places Act as an archaeological site.
Affectionately known simply as ‘the Waitaks’ to locals, the ranges here are the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, dating back much further than the relatively recent volcanoes of Auckland city.
This began in the Miocene period, which was roughly 15 to 22 million years ago. The Waitakere Ranges were initially under water, but when the Pacific and Australia tectonic plates collided, it resulted in the massive Waitakere volcano rising from the ocean. Now deeply eroded, the remnants of this volcano create some of the most beautiful landscapes in New Zealand, making for unforgettable day tours from Auckland.
Only 40 minutes from Auckland city, the Waitakere Ranges offer 16,000 hectares of native rainforest and coastlines, with more than 250 kilometres of walking tracks and enchanting features such as the Karekare Falls. It’s where you will find regenerated kauri trees, nikau palms, and New Zealand’s iconic silver fern.
5 gorgeous New Zealand native trees
New Zealand is world famous for its lush landscapes, and even has a tag line as a country of ‘100% Pure’.
Amongst the many imported trees, New Zealand has a large number of stunning native trees, many of which you will learn about on Auckland day tours.
The magnificent kauri tree is one of the largest and longest-living in the world, and only grows around the Auckland area, Coromandel Peninsula and in Northland.
A kauri tree will grow to an average 30-40 metres in height and more than a metre across. Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest known living kauri, is 51 metres tall.
Before people arrived, kauri trees covered more than 1.2 million hectares, but many were cut down for use as building material for boats and houses.
The pohutukawa is an iconic New Zealand tree with its cheerful red blossoms, and is dotted all over the North Island with a smattering in the South. As they bloom with the arrival of summer and the kiwi Christmas holiday season, these trees have the nickname of the ‘New Zealand Christmas tree’.
Preferring to grow along coastlines and in coastal forests, the pohutukawa are hardy trees that grow to approximately 20-25 metres in height, and can live for more than 1,000 years.
Rimu is a member of New Zealand’s conifer family, and is both the most common and widespread in the country, growing from the bottom of the South Island to the top of the North.
The rimu can live for more than 1,000 years, but most commonly lives to 550-600 years, as they are susceptible to toppling over in strong winds.
During their youth, lancewoods have long, spiky leaves that give this native plant its name. Once the trees reach maturity, however, they look quite different, leading early botanists to believe they were completely different species.
An adult lancewood will grow to approximately 15 metres, and the deep purple-black fruit that comes from this tree are a favourite meal for birds such as tui, kereru (wood pigeon) and whiteheads.
Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow, so it’s not surprising that this sunny-flowered native bush has borrowed the name. It is widely regarded as New Zealand’s national flower, and can be found all over the country from coastline to mountain terrain.
New Zealand birds are just as big of a fan of the kowhai tree as New Zealanders themselves, as both the tui and wood pigeon enjoy the kowhai nectar.
The 2015 annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientific committee has just wrapped up in San Diego. During the gathering, Otago University Professor Liz Slooten and Dr Barbara Maas of the NABU International Nature Conservation Foundation made a frightening presentation concerning New Zealand’s Maui dolphins to the 200 assembled scientists.
As reported in the New Zealand Herald on May 27, the report shows that the estimated total number of Maui dolphins is down to 43-47, with only a dozen or so adult females left.
According to the Department of Conservation, this endemic species is threatened by pollution, fishing, boating, and other human acts, and they have asked kiwis and visitors to report sightings of the dolphin as they can be seen from the shore around the North Island simply while sightseeing or during nature tours (although this is very rare).
Dr Maas has called these new low figures an “unmistakable wake-up call”, and predicted that should these dolphins stop dying from human intervention, the dolphins could number as many as 500 within the next century.
At present, the waters around Auckland are a safe zone from oil exploration – but not from other forms of exploration. Plus, there is a range of trawling and drift net restrictions where the Maui dolphin lives, but Dr Maas has warned that if more steps are not taken, this endangered species could be extinct within 15 years.
In true Kiwi style, Wellington local man Mark Major teamed up with current free dive champion William Turbridge and created a crowd fund with the aim to raise enough money to build an app called Plunge Free Dive. In the game, you compete to free dive while rescuing Hector’s and Maui dolphins as you go, all in the attempt to raise awareness and support for the survival of these marine creatures.
At Habitat Tours, we’re lucky enough to see the occasional bottlenose dolphin off the coast during our Auckland day tours. We are deeply concerned with all things conservation, and hope to see more efforts to preserve our beautiful marine life in the future.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist