Trees and Birds

The power of the trees

Whirinaki is best known for its awe-inspiring trees. The greatest of these are known as podocarps and include rimu, tōtara, kahikatea, mataī and miro.

These forest giants have always been valued but in quite different ways now compared to the past. Visitors who marvel at their great height and size are often surprised to learn that logging of this forest ceased as recently as the mid-1980s.

Timber milling first began at Te Whaiti in 1928 when Crown and Māori land was logged for tōtara fencing material. As demand for high quality wood gradually increased, a sawmill and the original Minginui Village were built near the present village site in the 1930s to help supply the timber. Work was plentiful and before long Minginui had three sawmills. The annual cut of native trees was large—up to 30,000 cubic metres.

Ongoing demand saw fast-growing exotic species planted where the much slower-growing natives had been logged. By the late 1970s around 130 people were employed in the forest industry at Whirinaki.

But times were changing. In 1975 the three mills amalgamated and between 1978 and 1979 a bitter public controversy raged over the future of the forest. Conservation groups actively campaigned to stop the native harvest and came into direct conflict with the local community who saw this as a threat to their lifestyle and employment. In 1985 a new government ended the logging of native trees and by 1987 all logging of native timber had stopped at Whirinaki.

Plants and animals

The vegetation of Whirinaki changes from lowland podocarp forest in the basins through to beech forest in higher altitude areas. The plant life reflects the landform, altitude and soils along with past disturbance by volcanic activity and burning by humans. The park’s most striking characteristic is its wonderful podocarp forest. Another special feature is the northern rātā-podocarp forest on the Minginui Faces, one of the best examples of rātā forest in the North Island. Also of note are the frost flats at Waione and Taahau where a unique ecosytem has been created by extreme frost conditions. The flats are dominated by monoao and kānuka shrublands and include the rare parasitic plant Dactylanthus taylori.

Birdlife is diverse and abundant. The forest supports high numbers of rare birds such as North Island brown kiwi, redand yellow-crowned kākāriki, and North Island kākā. Other notable birds include whio (blue duck) and the endangered kārearea (New Zealand falcon).

New Zealand’s only native land mammals, long-tailed and shorttailed bats (pekapeka), are present but rarely seen. Alert visitors may catch sight of a long-tailed bat around the forest edges in the evening. Many introduced mammals have also made Whirinaki home. These include red deer, pigs and possums which have played a major part in modifying the forest. Deer and possums were liberated in the late 1890s and their populations rose to a peak around the late 1950s. Rats, mice, cats and stoats are also present.

The lie of the land

The lie of the land Whirinaki is located between the central volcanic plateau and mountain axis of the North Island. To the west is the Kaingaroa plateau, while to the east and south are the Huiarau and Ikawhenua ranges, bounded by the Whaeo and Te Whaiti faults. The park contains elements of volcanic and non-volcanic landforms and soils, and the plant and animal life reflects these differences.

The land is still and peaceful now but this belies the violent origins of the Kaingaroa Plateau and Whirinaki basin. About 1800 years ago the Taupo eruption ejected a great wave of pumice, destroying all in its path and creating a new landscape. A lot of material also fell from the air, cloaking the greywacke ridges to the east.

The northern part of the forest, west of the Whirinaki River, is relatively low country which rises from 360 m to 730 m. There are beautiful river flats and rolling, tree-covered hills and gullies. These are a marked contrast to the steep rugged greywacke country in the south which rises to 1365 m at Maungataniwha.

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