I have been a docent in Big Basin Redwood State Park, California’s oldest, for 10 years. When I am not traveling, I lead monthly interpretive hikes in the majestic redwoods. As part of my training and study, I learned that of the three species of redwood that have survived since the Jurassic Period (65,000,000 years ago there were at least 40 species of redwoods covering much of the northern hemisphere–but I digress–to learn more about redwood ecology come on one of my hikes) the Coastal Redwood, Sequoia Semperviren, only grew in a narrow strip about 500 miles long beginning in Big Sur and ending just over the Oregon border.
When I heard that there was a Coastal Redwood forest just outside of Rotorua, a highly active geothermal area and the most visited place in New Zealand, I was quite skeptical. So yesterday, I drove 10 minutes out of Rotorua city to find, in the words of the Firesign Theater, that “Everything you know is wrong.”
“Everything you know is wrong.”
I arrived at the outskirts of an obvious redwood forest.
Making my way quickly to the visitors’ center, I explained to the interpretative hostess that I was having my reality seriously challenged.
She proceeded to explain to me that beginning in 1899, 170 tree species from around the world were planted here in the Whakarewarewa Forest making it the first exotic forest in New Zealand. This was done to see which trees would thrive in the climate and be of commercial value.
In 1901, 15 acres of Sequoia Sempervirens, California Coastal Redwoods were planted. The area is temperate with no extremes of heat or cold. It receives a lot of rainfall and the volcanic soil is rich in nutrients from all the geothermal activity. Not only did the redwoods thrive, but they grew at about three times the rate of our California trees.
However, because of the rapid growth, the wood is not so dense. My interpreter likened it to Balsa. So the redwoods had no value for building, but in typical Kiwi fashion, they were kept and continued to multiply because they were pretty and majestic.
Note the width of the rings in the above cross-section. They are between ¼ to ½ inch thick! If you have ever looked at a redwood cross-section in Big Basin or Humboldt then you know that this is enormous.
O.K. Armed with this knowledge I was ready to hike. It was late afternoon with an intermittent drizzle. Perfect weather for photographing redwoods as the subtle color variations show well.
Some of what I observed struck me as unusual to the point of alien for a redwood forest such as:
- The companion trees included giant umbrella ferns and silver ferns (the symbol of NZ)
- The total lack of fairy rings (this is the way most Coastal Redwoods germinate in old growth forests)
- Endless row patterns where the trees were deliberately paced.
Well, it was a lovely hike and fun to see my beloved redwoods in such a different environment.
But come to Big Basin State Park in California and take a hike with me. You will see many Sequoia Sempervirens over 1,000 years old and a few that are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. The largest of these are over 300 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter.