Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest

July 20

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For a tree to be known as the Lord of the Forest, it’s got to be pretty big, and Tāne Mahuta does not disappoint. New Zealand’s largest kauri tree stands at over 50 metres tall, with a trunk girth of over 13 metres. Try wrapping your arms around that one for a hug.


It’s not just the measurements of this giant that captivate, though, but the sacred atmosphere it emanates. As well as being the largest known Kauri tree in New Zealand, Tāne Mahuta is a symbol of great spiritual significance. The giant tree is visited and adored by local and international visitors alike, and is known to move many to tears. Standing in the shadow of this majestic being, it’s almost impossible to comprehend that many, many kauri trees were lost to logging in the 1820’s. They are a cornerstone of New Zealand native trees, and are one of the longest living trees in the world, living to thousands of years old.

Tāne Mahuta had been occupying his space in the Waipoua (Te Matua Ngahere) forest on the west coast of Northland for a long, long time before European arrival, but in 1928, Nicholas Yakas and other bushmen identified the tree. They were building the road through the Waipoua forest, known now as State Highway 12, and the tree was spared felling.


So why is Tāne Mahuta important?

It’s one thing to explain the importance of a tree like this; by the size of its trunk girth, its sheer volume and the space it takes up in the forest. But the best way to understand the significance of Tāne Mahuta is to the feel it. The mighty giant is of huge spiritual significance to Māori people, and is named after Tāne, a god who plays a big role in the the Māori creation myth.

What is Tāne Mahuta the god of?

It’s fitting that the lord of the forest be named after a Maori god. Tāne is the son of Ranginui, Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, Earth Mother. Before there was light and life, the two were locked in an loving embrace. Tane pushed his parents apart, creating the world as we know it, and set about clothing his earth mother in forest. All of the living creatures in the forest are thought to be Tāne’s children, so watch where you step!

How old is Tane Mahuta?

Tane Mahuta is thought to be between 1,250 years and 2,500 years old. So he’s been around a while, and is a beautiful reminder of the ancient subtropical native rainforest that once covered this region north of Auckland.

So where exactly is the biggest Kauri tree in New Zealand found?

Tāne Mahuta is located just off State Highway 12 in the Waipoua forest on the west coast of the Northland region, in the North Island. There are signs along the road that will point you in the right direction – it’s hard to miss, and there’s plenty of space for parking.

How long is the walk to Tane Mahuta?

It’s about 166m into the Waipoua forest and less than five minutes, so the short walk to the famous kauri tree and its jawdropping trunk is perfect for the kids.

What’s the closest town to Tane Mahuta?

The closest Northland towns to Tāne Mahuta are Omapere, which is 18 km to the south, and Dargaville, 65km to the north.

Can you still visit Tane Mahuta?

Due to a dieback disease ravaging New Zealand’s kauri trees, it looked for a while like access to Tane Mahuta might need to be restricted to protect the great tree. It was, in fact, found 60m from the tree in the Waipoua forest. But the disease, while still present, has been slowed and visitors are still allowed to go and visit Tane Mahuta.

What is Kauri dieback disease?

 Kauri dieback is a devastating disease sweeping the kauri of New Zealand, and is caused by a microscopic fungus-like organism. It gets into the roots and kills any kauri it infects. It lives in the soil, and is spread by the movement of soil, mostly by us humans and other animals.

What can I do to prevent the spread?

Join the efforts to keep kauri standing. Always clean the soil off your shoes when entering and leaving a native forest, use the sanitizing stations set up by the Department of Conservation and stay on the tracks. And keep an eye out for Tāne’s children!

This article is even better in print.

1964: mountain culture / aotearoa is a reader-supported magazine that explores Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote places and the people who seek them out. Working with more than thirty artists, photographers, writers, woodworkers and welders, we advocate for and support Aotearoa’s creatives.

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