Exploring Northland: Part 2

Julian Callin University of Auckland, New Zealand


July 27, 2015

This post is the second half of my adventure in Northland with 10 Arcadia students continued from last week.

The next day, we awoke before daybreak and trekked along the beach for a beautiful view of the sun rising over the ocean. We left quickly, as we intended on visiting the Wairere boulder field, Tāne Mahuta (the Lord of the Forest), and making it all the way back to Auckland by the evening. At the Wairere boulders, we encountered an old Swiss man whose story I will recount in further detail in a later blog post. I’ll give a quick recount of the story of the Wairere boulders, for their curious geological properties are found nowhere else in the entire world, and their story seemed particularly fascinating to me as a student.

The Wairere boulder field was discovered by Felix and Rita Schaad, who immigrated to NZ in 1983. Some years after their arrival and purchase of land in the Wairere valley, the Schaads, while exploring their dominion, noticed peculiar erosion patterns on the large basalt boulders in the valley. This was a fascinating discovery, as basalt has never been known to erode anywhere else on earth. The Schaads submitted their findings to geological societies but were largely ignored, as many scientists believed that this sort of erosion was impossible and that the data was somehow flawed. The Schaads persisted, using a previous PhD student’s thesis on basalt erosion to solidify their claims. This research claimed that basalt erosion could occur when rainwater mixed with chemicals secreted by the Kauri tree (a tree native only to New Zealand) flows over basalt rocks. The rainwater is acidified by the kauri and has great corrosive strength. The Schaads finally gained recognition in the scientific community for their discovery and opened the Wairere Boulder Park to the public in 2003.

The walk through the boulder field was short, but absolutely serene. The path led us along a stream and above the gargantuan boulders on walkways and bridges (hand built by Felix and Rita!!). The park seemed to carry an energy that was both peaceful and awe-inspiring. We said our farewells to Felix and Rita and drove south toward Tāne Mahuta. Estimated to be over 2000 years old, the Lord of the Forest towers over other kauri trees from a height of 52 meters. This behemoth stands a short walk from the main road and seemed to challenge our presence in the forest as we rounded the last corner and gazed up at its enormity. There is something unmistakably divine for us when we are faced with an entity that is incomprehensibly massive – a relic of thousands of years and a symbol of longevity which our race simply cannot cognize. This tree had experienced all of written history and more, it was truly an incredible creature to behold. The Lord of the Forest marked the end of our journey, save a short stop for chips and one last sunset jaunt on the beach. We arrived in Auckland late and unpacked the cars – glad to sleep in a warm bed, but glum at the prospect of leaving the wilderness and the camaraderie of outdoor living.