We traveled into the Puketi forest and found a little more of the prime directive of tourism than we perhaps bargained for.
PUKETI FOREST, New Zealand- Up to now we had camped each night either on the coast or in parking lots in towns. It was time to go into the third realm of New Zealand: the forest.
We headed down from the tip on Highway 1, stopped at a van on the side of the road that had “Hit Man” written down the side of it — hit, as in expresso shots. This guy had been selling coffee out of the back of his van parked on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere for the past two years. It didn’t seem to be a bad gig: there wasn’t much competition for dozens of miles around — or anything else for that matter.
“This is pretty cool what you’re doing,” I said.
“I know,” he replied.
After a couple more hours of driving, 15 km of which were down a gravel road, were in the Puketi Forest. Our mission here was the prime directive of the tourist: to see something we’ve never seen before.
And this we did:
Giant kauri trees are located in this forest. These things can grow up to 50 meters tall, be 16 meters in girth, and live for two millennia. The Maori used these trees to build their boats and houses, they used its gum to start fires and chewed it like betel nut.
Then Europeans showed up and realized that they found the motherload of timber. They began making masts out of them, built their towns with them, cut them down to make room for their sheep pastures, and then one day wondered where they all went.
Perhaps this is just our fresh-off-the-boat ignorance, but we didn’t know what a kauri tree was before stumbling upon one in the forest. Oh shit, look at that tree! It’s huge!
Looking at a clutch of about eight or nine of them together provoked that special little feeling that you get sometimes in travel where you’re looking at something that you have a difficult time believing is real. These trees are that big.
Another thing that we had a hard time believing was real in the Puketi forest was all of the intentionally exterminated animals.
We walked down a trail that was lined on both sides with traps nailed onto trees. Hanging from many of these traps were the lifeless corpses of possums. Their heads were caught in the traps and their bodies just hung there, decomposing. It was a massacre. It was like walking into ancient Rome along the Via Appia when it was lined with crucified criminals.
What was really startling about this wasn’t just the fact that there were traps that killed possums who feed on bird eggs, but the fact that the park authorities not only just left them hanging on the sides of the trail well into an advanced stage of decomposition but that when they did remove them they just tossed them right there on the ground. So this meant that at the foot of the trees where these traps were placed were piles of dead possum bodies and skeletons.
While it is true that my kids have ever seen anything like this before, I’m not quite sure if this satisfied the prime directive of tourism.
Other than that, I have to sum up our stay in the Puketi forest with a lame adjective: amazing.
We hung out in the campsite, ate our muesli under the trees, and stood on guard for animal sightings. It was camping … for real this time.
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