Why the Pohutukawa is New Zealand's Christmas tree
The Pohutukawa tree is as kiwi as Marmite, jandals, and the kiwi itself. Its history in the country is intertwined with everything from local legend and medicine to our cultural history and natural landscape.
So what is this tree, and why is it New Zealand’s Christmas tree when we already have so much pine in the country?
The Pohutukawa tree is related to the rata – another iconic NZ species. It grows up to roughly 25 metres in height, and come summer every year, blossoms with bright and cheery red flowers. It’s even one of our favourite things to show guests on our Auckland day tours around this time of year!
It grows naturally around coastal areas of the North Island, and has also been planted in many other coastal and inland areas around the country so that more people can enjoy this beautiful summer bloom. That said, the Pohutukawa is most often seen in the North Island, or around the top of the South Island.
Like many trees, the Pohutukawa has been used medicinally in the past. The bark was once used to help with toothaches, to stop bleeding, and as a remedy for diarrhoea.
This tree is also tied up with more than one legend.
You will find one gnarled 800-year-old Pohutukawa at the very northern tip of New Zealand at Cape Reinga, and according to Maori myth, is ‘the place of leaping’. This spot is sacred as it is seen as the place where spirits leave the country to travel to the traditional homeland, Hawaiki.
Another myth tells the tale of a young Maori warrior who tried to avenge the death of his father by climbing to heaven. In the story, he sadly falls to his death, and the crimson of the flowers are said to represent his blood.
These days, legend has it that if the Pohutukawa is early to bloom (such as around early November), then New Zealand will see a long, hot summer.
Project Crimson is a conservation project that was established in 1990 to fight for the survival and wellbeing of both the Pohutukawa tree and the rata. Both workers and volunteers with this organisation can be proud of the massive achievements made through planting trees, supporting maintenance, coordinating possum control, educating the public, and helping to ensure scientific research on these wonderful trees. Because of such efforts, the Pohutukawa and rata are no longer considered threatened species, and just this year, the organisation was honoured with a Green Ribbon Award for their biodiversity work.
The NZ Christmas tree
Kiwis everywhere recognise this tree as a symbol of Christmas. It’s on our wrapping paper, our Christmas cards, and even on our front doors as wreaths (fake ones, of course).
It is simply because the tree blooms around Christmas time, and the dark red of the flower against the bright green of the leaves is such a traditionally seasonal colour combination. It has been known this way since at least the late 1800s, when early settlers could be heard describing it as the ‘Antipodean holly’, and of course’ the ‘New Zealand Christmas tree’.
3 reasons to become a birder
There is somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 bird species on the planet, and it’s the goal of a birder to see as many of them as possible.
While this might sound like a tall order, there are thousands of people around the world who proudly claim to be a birder. So why do they do it? Apart from the obvious fact that it’s fun and birds are wonderful creatures, here are three top reasons why you should become a birder, too.
1. You will see more of the world
Even though your own home town probably has quite a number of bird species, you’ll have to travel further afield to see much more of them.
There are almost 200 bird species in New Zealand alone, and of those, approximately 90 are birds that you won’t see in any other country on earth. A day tour from Auckland to Tawharanui or the Waitakere Ranges is a great place to start for the chance to see several fantastic rare species such as the kiwi, morepork and kaka.
Outside of New Zealand, you’ll need to travel to far flung and exotic locations to tick more species off your list, making for fantastic adventures to places you would never otherwise visit.
2. It keeps you fit
Rare birds don’t typically hang around in suburban areas, so you’ll need to get off the beaten track and try walking treks, hiking into alpine areas, and more, just to see birds that live further away.
Birders are known walkers, and often spend hours on their feet searching for that one special species. As such, it’s a hobby that will always keep you fit!
3. The birding community
The global birding community is thousands strong, and it’s full of incredibly supportive, helpful, and kind people from all walks of life.
This alone is enough of a reason to begin your birding journey. Your fellow birders will always be ready with helpful tips and advice, and it’s more than likely that you’ll meet new people along the way with the same interests as you have.
A Christmas gift guide for nature lovers
The Christmas countdown is on, and it’s becoming increasingly stressful for anyone who still doesn’t have those last few gifts! If you need a gift idea for a loved one this Christmas (or at any time) and you know that they love nature, consider one of these thoughtful and wonderful presents.
A conservation donation
Need a gift for someone who literally has it all? If they love nature and the idea of conserving it, a donation may be a simple and beautiful gift.
The Department of Conservation offers list of various organisations that are always in need of donations, so giving on behalf of someone else will always be extremely appreaciated, and you can guarantee that the money will go to good use. Oxfam Unwrapped also offer a number of heartwarming ‘unwrapped’ gifts, such as farms, animals, and water that you can ‘give’ to your loved one.
A Habitat Tours tour
They say that buying experiences can be an even more rewarding feeling than buying material things, and we certainly think that’s true on any one of our day tours from Auckland.
We could take you and your loved one on a tour of the lush Waitakere Ranges or out to see the conservation area at Tawharanui. If you opt for a night-time tour of Tawharanui, you might even get the chance to see a real kiwi in the wild – something even many New Zealanders will never experience.
Environmentally friendly jewellery
Jewellery is a very common and much-loved gift every year – and it’s no secret those tiny boxes under the Christmas tree are some of the most exciting ones!
If you’re looking to give jewellery as a gift this year, but want something a bit different, consider an environmentally friendly supplier such as EcoWool. Their beautiful collection of paua jewellery is created only from paua shells that wash up on shore, and are not dyed or enhanced in any way other than a perfect polish.
The Nature Guide to the New Zealand Forest
This book is a beautiful, informative and fascinating encyclopedia of New Zealand’s backyard. With exquisite photography and detailed explanations, authors Rob Lucas and John Dawson have created the ultimate gift for anyone who wants to learn a little (or a lot) more about the flora and fauna of this magnificent country. You’ll find it in most online book retailers and many brick-and-mortar book stores.
A native New Zealand plant or tree
Provided your loved one has a healthy backyard area, you could give them a slice of something wonderful with their own native plant or tree. You may need to talk to your local garden centre professionals to ask about which species will thrive best in your geographical area, but a few ideas could include anything from the bright and fun kowhai tree, to a pohutukawa, or even a towering kauri tree.
This gift makes for a wonderful Christmas present as it will continue to grow, so you can watch it as it flowers and thrives year after year!
The danger lurking in NZ waters
Despite the energy and resources that both the New Zealand people and our government put into keeping our waters free from illegal fishing and trawling, as well as hazards such as oil spills, there is still at least one major threat to seabirds around the country.
That danger is plastic in the ocean, and a recent study from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Imperial College London has highlighted just how invasive such items pose to birdlife.
The issue is that when plastic finds its way to the ocean, sea birds will often ingest these materials, which will then remain in the bird’s gut for the rest of its life. Plastics include common items such as bottle caps, bags, and fibres from synthetic clothing.
Back in the 1960s, researchers found that approximately 5 per cent of sea birds had plastic in their stomachs, but the latest study suggests that as much as 99 per cent of sea birds will encounter this problem by 2050, based on current trends.
The result of a bird ingesting plastic includes everything from weight loss and gut impaction to the death of the bird.
Plastic in the ocean is a massive problem around New Zealand in particular, both because of our geography and the diversity of our wildlife. The rubbish tends to gather around areas in the Southern Ocean, and as there is a high number of endemic species of sea birds around our shores, this signals a major threat to our marine life.
Small measures can make big differences, and the simple action of adding a charge for plastic bags in supermarkets around the country has already seen a marked reduction in their use. Further reductions and better waste management can also help the situation, which is something we believe in on all of our day tours around Auckland.
What to do if you only have 1 day in Auckland
Auckland is a wonderful city that buzzes and fizzes with activities, events, attractions, and culture for 365 days of the year – so what do you do in the City of Sails if you only have one day to enjoy it?
Here’s our suggestion for the very best way to spend your day!
A Waitakere half-day tour from Auckland
The magnificent Waitakere Ranges are just out of the city, but are so smothered in dense forest and spectacular coastlines that you’ll feel as though you’re days away.
Start the day bright and early at 8am for a half-day tour to the Waitakeres, where you’ll enjoy a visit to the beautiful Bethells Beach, a stop at Lake Wainamu, and a break at the Cascade Kauri Park.
A walk and lunch in the city
We’ll drop you back off in the city after the Waitakere tour, so you can use this time for a stroll around the CBD. This is often the best way to get the ‘feel’ of a new place, and you can’t miss a walk up K Road, a wander along busy Queen Street, and finally a stroll along the waterfront to pick a café or restaurant where you can have lunch. You’ll be spoiled for choice here with dozens of award-winning eateries right on the water’s edge.
A harbour cruise
Auckland is the city of sails, so it only makes sense to spend some of your day here on the water. There are a number of options and operators to choose from, including an adrenalin-pumping ride on an ex-America’s Cup yacht, or a relaxing cruise out to the Hauraki Gulf to see the Harbour Bridge, cute Devonport, and Rangitoto Island.
Dinner at the Sky Tower
After a busy day, book yourself in for a meal at Orbit 360. This restaurant sits 190 metres up in the iconic Sky Tower, and revolves slowly as you dine.
Enjoy a delicious meal as you sit comfortably and point out everything you did on your whirlwind day, as you can easily pick out countless points around the city and beyond.
Tips for looking after our environment
The environment is becoming more of a hot topic every day, and many people simply want to know what they can do to help.
Here are a few simple tips to consider the environment in your lifestyle.
Environmentally minded buying decisions
More and more often, consumers are being given the chance to make decisions with their wallets, and as soon as you know what to look for, you can start making such choices, too.
Locally sourced produce, for example, doesn’t have to be transported from overseas or far away, so purchasing this instead of imported goods can help. At the larger end of the scale, consider the environment during your next large purchases, such as when deciding on a house or car. Does the house have double glazed windows to save on energy? Is the car efficient? Such choices can help you to lead a greener lifestyle.
Reduce first, then reuse, then recycle
The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra is a popular one, but something not everyone knows is that the three ‘R’s are listed in order of importance.
Many people will recycle their plastics, cardboards and glass, but priority should be first and foremost on reducing. This can be anything from using a carry bag instead of taking plastic bags at the supermarket, to reducing the amount of time you spend in the shower to save water.
Following that, reuse anything you can – an old pillow case can become a dish rag, for example.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to volunteer for environmental work in your neighbourhood. There are often regular meetings for like-minded people to get together for beach clean ups to gather rubbish, for tree planting, for weeding, and so on.
Every year, volunteers help to plant as many as 20,000 trees in Tawharanui where we take many of our day and night tours. We’re proud to be part of this effort and love to see others get involved, too.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist