Insiders' guide to rainforests
New Zealand’s rainforests and coastal forests are unlike those found anywhere else in the world. They are a treasure trove of unique flora and fauna, tucked away in all corners of the country just waiting for visitors to explore their waterfalls, hiking tracks, dark canopies and soft undergrowth.
Some of the country’s best are the Waitakere Ranges just half an hour from Auckland city, those on the West Coast of the South Island where the rainfall is heaviest, and coastal forests such as that found at Tawharanui Regional Park.
Here’s a taste of what you can expect when you visit the rainforests and coastal forests of New Zealand during a nature tour.
Approximately 80 per cent of all the trees, flowering plants and ferns in New Zealand are endemic according to the Department of Conservation (DOC), which is largely due to the isolation of the country allowing for the emergence of new species throughout history that have not grown anywhere else.
The geographical location of the North Island is much closer to the equator than the South, giving forests here a sub-tropical classification, whereas those in the South are considered temperate.
Rimu is the most common conifer in New Zealand, growing throughout the country. The precious kauri tree is another New Zealand conifer, and is notable for its massive size both in height and width. The totara tree is another massive forest giant, growing up to 40 metres in height and most commonly found in lowland areas. On top of all that, beech forests are the most widespread in the country.
Below the canopies of such large trees are as many as 200 species of fern, of which approximately 40 per cent are unique to New Zealand. There are also tree ferns, which are known as ‘pungas’, and liverworts and hornworts, which look like mosses and thrive in damp forest areas.
The fauna you will most likely find in any New Zealand rainforest will be birdlife, and you will almost certainly hear them before you see them.
This includes the bellbird, fantail, grey warbler, tui, kokako, tomtit, kaka, wood pigeon, whitehead, and in some forests (such as Tawharanui), the kiwi.
New Zealand’s only native mammals – the long-tailed bat and the lesser short-tailed bat - both live in native forest land where they can roost inside large hollow trees. These species are quite rare and are only found in scattered populations, so you would be extraordinarily lucky to see one.
In many rainforests and coastal forests of New Zealand, you will also find evidence of pests such as stoats, possums and rats. Conservation efforts help keep their numbers under control to ensure the survival of more precious animals.
With so much in the way of flora and fauna to admire, walking tracks in New Zealand rainforests and coastal forests are endless sources of enjoyment.
In the Waitakere Ranges alone, there are more than 250 kilometres of tramping and walking tracks. Tawharanui Regional Park is the ideal location for an eco tour with its lush walking tracks and sounds of birdsong, and the Kahurangi National Park at the top of the South Island offers the 31-kilometre Oparara Track through untouched rainforest.
No matter which forest you intend to visit, it is likely there will be walking tracks and look-out points to truly understand and explore these national treasures.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist