Thursday, January 30, 2014

Post Conference Tour in New Zealand

Gretel Boswijk, Anthony Fowler, and Drew Lorrey lead the post conference tour around the Northland which is north of Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. It was a fabulous tour that took us through living Kauri forests, to archaeological sites that included Kauri wood, and to peat bogs that contained ancient Kauri.  We also visited a couple of wood shops that have been using the ancient Kauri from bogs as a fine wood product. Drew specializes in collecting this wood to help extend the Kauri chronology back through time and to understand long-term climate changes.

I started my tour off with a couple day stay in Auckland at the Columbia Hostel. This lodging was basically a dormitory for the University of Auckland that let out un-used rooms for short term or long term stay. I had a room to myself, but shared a bathroom with two other rooms. It was a very small space with just a view of the building next to us which was about 10 feet away, but it was only $39/night. It was advertised as bring close to Queen Street (the main thoroughfare through Aukland) but it was actually quite a way from anything of interest (the university, Queen Street, or the docks). When I checked in, the room had not been cleaned or the sheets changed from the previous tenant so they moved me to another room.
Zhiyuan Shang (a dendrochronologist from China and a participant at the fieldweek) and I went out to the Bangkok Thai restaurant. It was a nice restaurant on a second floor above Queen Street. We ended up on the same plane from Melbourne and were going on the post conference tour together, so we shared a taxi to the hostel and stayed there for the few days before the post conference tour.
My first day in Auckland, I traveled to the Hobbiton Movie Set (see a previous post). I returned around 4pm that afternoon and had them drop me downtown so that I could take a ferry across to Devonport. I walked a couple miles on the beach walk and then found a restaurant to relax at and write on my blog until the 8:30pm ferry back to Auckland. Devonport was a very nice town with many historic buildings and coastal views. 

It was nice to see a native mangrove (Avicennia marina) growing along the waterways. It is an interesting tree that can grow well with its roots inundated in water because it has special aerenchyma cell that transport oxygen to its roots.
On my second day in Auckland, I visited the University of Auckland Tree-Ring Laboratory in the morning and had a great tour from Gretel Boswijk and Alar Laanelaid from Estonia joined us for the tour (see a previous post on this laboratory). I had tried to schedule a night kayak out to a local volcanic island, but the tour was booked and the weather was not very good with some intermittent heavy rains. I decided to visit the Auckland Zoo instead and saw many Australian and New Zealand animals.
They had a great display that was set as a night time exhibit with native Kiwi birds, moreporks (which is an owl like bird), and bats. It was a great display and I spent between half an hour to an hour in that display letting my eyes adjust and waiting for the Kiwis to come out. In the end, I saw two kiwis, the morepork, and some bats.
The post conference tour started the next morning at 9:30am. We had requested a small bus which would have been a tight fit for all 18 of us. We ended up getting a full coach which could hold about 55 people, so we each had our own set of seats or even a full row. We stayed in some beautiful places like the Copthorne hotel at the Bay of Islands and the Copthorne hotel near Hokianga These places where right on the beach where you could walk out your patio door and be on the beach in 100 feet. They had great views and were very beautiful and relaxing. During the days, we toured from one Kauri site to another. We hiked in many of the remaining Kauri forests which are amazing forests. Most of them had boardwalks which made walking easy, but I could imagine very difficult bushwalking to try to do field fieldwork in native Kauri forests. The forests where tropical with many layers of canopy and very dense forests.
We were able to visit the largest Kauri trees in existence. These are amazing trees. They are not as large volume as sequoia trees or as tall as coast redwoods, but they had great character. It seems that their tops die off as they age and many branches vie for dominance creating a stout trunk that is crowned by a series of massive branches.
We spent our first two nights in the Bay of Islands at the Copthorne hotel. We had a beautiful view of the bay and had the opportunity to take the second day as a free day. I decided to charter a sail boat that would take us out to an island where we could kayak and snorkel (see other post). Across the bay from where we were staying is the town of Russell which Darwin visited on his voyage on the Beagle. His main comment about the town was that it was the hellhole of the Pacific because of the unruly behavior of the sailors that were ashore. It was pretty cool to have visited a site that Charles Darwin had visited about 150 years ago.
Approximately 95% of the original Kauri forest was logged in the 1800s and early 1900s. We visited four existing forest patches, most of which were relatively small remnants of the original forest. Today, most of the Kauri wood is actually submerged in bogs and there is a healthy industry that is working to excavate these trees and to work them into high value wood products. Some of this sub fossil wood (still workable) dates back to the Last Glacial Maximum (at least 30,000 years old) and we saw a few pieces in a Kauri Museum that actually dates back 30 million years and is still workable as a wood. We visited two wood shops where the Kauri wood products were for sale. The Kauri Museum had a tangential section of the stem of a Kauri tree on display.
We also visited some historical sites. One of which was a gumdigger site in Northland where people used to mine out the Kauri gum from the swamps. The best quality gum was hard and preserved as amber. Other lower quality gum was processed into shellac and living trees where drained of their sap for this process as well. It was found that this process of bleeding the trees of sap actually killed them in a few years, so this practice was abandoned after a while.
This tour was amazing. It was a good mix of science, history, forest, and beautiful beaches along with good company. The living Kauri trees that we visited where just awe inspiring. The work that the Auckland dendrochronologists are doing is amazing, especially with the development of the long chronology using the ancient Kauri wood that is buried in the bog. It is nice to see the conservation efforts and that these native forests are being regenerated with the help of the Department of Conservation (see the Sustainability of New Zealand post).

A buried Kauri log in a bog. The flattened top is the area that was exposed to the air and the part that was below ground is what is preserved.

Piles of ancient Kauri stems that have been excavated from bogs.

Near the top of our tour through the Northland, we passed through some rolling green hills north of Hokianga. It was a beautiful pastoral country. I found myself thinking that it would be a great place to retire.

My Process: Dinner and blogging at the restaurant Mecca in Devonport overlooking the beach.

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