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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ancient New Zealand forests descended from Gondwana

A hairy  frond unfurls from the middle of a tree fern
Almost everything is different in New Zealand, but it was the forests that most captivated me. They’re called podocarp forests — a lineage that goes back hundreds of millions of years to a time when New Zealand was part of the super continent of Gondwana. Before being separated by continental drift it included most of the landmasses in today’s Southern Hemisphere, including Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar and the Australian continent, as well as the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.
 The same rich nutrients that made podocarp forests so luxurious also were attractive for farming, so many of the vast forests have disappeared from New Zealand.

Podocarp forests in New Zealand have plants found nowhere else on earth.

Some tree ferns grow to great heights, but none are as old as mauri trees which live thousands of years. 
 But one still exists near Wharekauhau, which was featured in my most recent Kiwi Kronicles story and can be found at
Almost everything that grows in New Zealand can be found no place else in the world. Tree ferns, which grow in shady areas,  were almost everywhere I traveled, from Wellington to Taraunga and the Coromandel Peninsula. They have umbrella like tops, similar to palms, but have a curled frond protruding from the top of the crown in many cases. A silver fern was the popular insignia for New Zealand’s All-Blacks rugby team, which won the world championship just before I arrived in November. A tree fern frond is also found as a logo of Air Zealand.

Kiwi Dundee lathers with water added to a leaf he picked from the undergrowth

On the Coromandel Peninsula I joined Kiwi Dundee, also known as Doug Johansen, for a trek into the bush where vines snaked across and along the path and a high leafy canopy arched overhead. Walking — what kiwis call tramping — is a popular pastime in New Zealand and it’s  Johansen’s claim to fame. He charms the birds from the trees and sometimes brings crumbled bacon along to feed to an eel he's named that lives in a stream.
Johansen has worked tirelessly to ban both logging and open pit gold mining in the region because even though there’s plenty of gold beneath the earth,  removing it would damage the environment. He’s documented New Zealand’s oldest kauri tree, a monster that’s more than 2,000 years old and knows the ancient Maori sites like the back of his hand.  If you go to this part of the world be sure to book a guided walk before you leave at

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Anonymous Canada's Boomergirl said...

That giant frond looks like a fiddlehead on steroids. I would definitely choose Kiwi Dundee for a tour of these forests. What an experience. I've seen a lot written about New Zealand but I think this is the first story on its ancient forests. Thanks for a good read.

April 17, 2012 at 10:06 PM 

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