For a country that’s so well endowed with natural features, it’s difficult to find a forest of distinction.
But one certainly exists. Whirinaki is one of a kind in this land of so many majestic vistas - indeed it’s one of the kind in the world.
Nestled between the Urewera National Park and the vast exotic production forests of the Central North Island, Whirinaki is a 60,000 hectare enclave which is ranked as one of the great rainforests of the world.
“Such a global comparison is needed to put it in its deserved ranking,” wrote the authors of ‘Whirinaki - To Save a Forest’ in 1984, when a hard-fought battle was raging to save it from despoliation and destruction at the hands of those who saw its giant trees as rich pickings.
“It is the finest of all New Zealand’s remaining giant podocarp forests,” they observed. “It is as superb as the renowned Waipoua forest, and it ought to be as greatly treasured, for in its tallest and densest form this type of community is today scarcer than kauri.”
Among those who fought to have Whirinaki preserved in perpetuity was David Bellamy, who named it the ‘Dinosaur Forest’ - not only because those giant mammals lived amongst its trees 60 million years ago, but because many of the plant species to be found there had their origins in the Jurassic era.
Another involved in these ground-breaking conservation battles of the late 1970s and early 1980s - then Professor of Zoology at Auckland University, John Morton - exclaimed: “One of the greatest glories of the Central North Island is its rainforests, in their scenic and botanical splendour, of which Whirinaki is perhaps supreme.
“When we did the book, ‘Whirinaki - To Save a Forest’ an important message was that everyone should be let into these forests, with facilities for everyone to get there and enjoy in moderate comfort.
The right vistas will come from walking through the forest, maybe spending a couple of nights and being given some expert guidance as part of the outdoor experience.
“To be able to trek through the forest in this way will be an enrichment to the lives of New Zealanders and overseas visitors.”
Whirinaki Rainforest Experiences began offering such experiences and now, 20 years down the trail, this eco-tourism pioneer is still showing a majestic land of antiquity and complexity - a land of virtual uniqueness - to those wishing to delve into its secrets and mysteries.
The truly natural world highlighted by David Bellamy, John Morton and others almost three decades ago is still there for all to see.
But as was so aptly proclaimed way back then, one day at Whirinaki is a good start, but a guided experience of a few days' duration is even better.