I love trees. I once spent time on the Orkney Islands but the treeless landscape soon made me quite depressed. On the other hand, I love England, especially the countryside with its many magnificent trees. I find it incredibly soul enriching to wander among trees and to admire these gifts from nature. To hear the rustle of leaves in a breeze and the birdsong from the branches in spring has to be one of the joys I never tire of.

Fortunately for the New Zealand landscape, the first British settlers who moved to Central Otago in the late 1800s were also tree lovers and brought seedlings with them to plant in the barren surroundings they found themselves living in. Today, the beautiful English trees they planted have become a feature of most Central Otago towns. In fact, the autumn colours that create such a dazzling display in Arrowtown have become internationally famous and attract tourists from around the world. The poplar trees that line Lake Wanaka are also a magnet for tourists in the autumn.

Lake Wanaka Autumn Trees (Pinterest)


New Zealand’s oldest oak tree started its life as an acorn brought by ship from England in 1824 by a missionary called Richard Davis. It was one of several acorns planted at Paihia Mission Station and the only sapling to survive a fire which swept through the grounds a few years later. The old oak was growing during the establishment of the country’s first European-style farm. It survived the Northern Land Wars, and was there during the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1835 it caught the attention of naturalist Charles Darwin and Navy officer and scientist Robert Fitzroy who was also travelling on the second around-the-world voyage of HMS Beagle. Fitzroy wrote about the tree in his diary: ”Englishmen one now meets everywhere; but a living, healthy English Oak was a sight too rare, near the Antipodes, to fail in exciting emotion”.

N.Z.’s Oldest Oak Tree (

Sadly, this spring, a violent gust of wind proved too much for the 194 year old oak. With its branches spreading over 60m, it came crashing down in the paddock 15km north east of Kaikohe it had been planted in so long ago. Alex Bell, who manages Te Waimate Mission for Heritage New Zealand was one of many local people saddened by the tree’s loss. ”Its leafy green canopy has been a prominent feature on the Te Waimate landscape for nearly two centuries and it stirred the hearts of many homesick British settlers.” Alex took some cuttings from the tree in the hope they could be used to propagate it.

Other historic trees still survive in Northland. These include a pear tree near Kerikeri’s Stone Store, planted in 1819 and still bearing fruit, a fig and an olive tree planted at Butler Pt, near Mangonui in the 1840s and a Moreton Bay fig planted on the Russell waterfront in the 1870s. I have sat under this tree in Russell and felt at peace as I absorbed the energy the tree was supplying. Old trees have a particular character with their gnarly network of branches and dense coating of leaves that emanate a special magic.


At a height of 81.26m, a Mountain Ash tree growing in the grounds of   Orokonui Eco-sanctuary in Dunedin is the tallest tree in New Zealand. Planted in 1870, it grows in the Orokonui Creek Valley. A nearby tree was formerly known as New Zealand’s tallest tree, but it was reduced to 74m in 2011 after losing part of its top in a storm.

NZ’s Tallest Tree (Otago Daily Times)

So far, I’ve spoken about European trees. However, the huge native kauri tree has to be the daddy of all trees. Unfortunately, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, these huge trees were savagely chopped down and used for ship’s masts and for constructing the public buildings of the new colony. The ones that survive are carefully protected and with a fungus now threatening these trees, stringent measures are being taken to stop its spread.

The king of all kauri trees, and the most loved, and best known tree in New Zealand is called Tane Mahuta, the Maori for ‘god of the forest’. Believed to be around 2,500 years old, this awesome tree is 45.2m (148feet) high with a girth of 15.44m (50.7feet) and grows in Northland’s Waipoura Forest.  The tree was discovered and formally identified in the 1920s, by contractors who were surveying the forest for a new road.

Being so precious, 10,000 litres of water was diverted from a nearby stream during the drought of 2013 when it showed signs of dehydration. I have stood at the base of this tree and gazed up its gigantic trunk to the canopy of leaves and branches that is home to countless birds and insects. There is a real presence, almost spiritual, about this tree, the largest kauri in the world.

Tane Mahuta (DoC)

Without trees, the world would be a desolate place. In fact, it would be a stark world with no birdsong, no leaves to fall and fertilize the soil, no shelter from the hot sun, no wood for building everything from boats to houses and furniture.

I love trees!

Ceidrik Heward

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