Whirinaki Rainforest Information - conservation , sustainability
Whirinaki Forest Park Introduction
The Whirinaki Forest Park is administered and cared for by the Department
of Conservation and is open for all to enjoy. These "Park Information"
pages give general information about the forest, much of which is taken
from DOC brochures. Please ensure that you get up to date brochures, information
and maps from their centres at Murupara, Waikaremoana or from one of their
national offices before you enter the Park.
Amazingly tall trees, rushing rivers, a wide variety of habitats and a
fascinating past combine to create Whirinaki Forest Park. This was one
of New Zealand’s most famous conservation battlegrounds, where people
actively fought to save a magnificent native forest. Today Whirinaki’s
beauty is protected for everyone to enjoy through a comprehensive network
of walks, tracks and huts and a range of opportunities for visitors.
Whirinaki Forest Park forms a boundary between the exotic Kaingaroa
pine plantations to the west and Te Urewera National Park to the east.
The Forest Park stretches over 55000 ha from near Murupara in the north
to the Napier-Taupo highway in the south. The park is about 90 km south-east
of Rotorua past Murupara on State Highway 38. (see
Early History and Culture:
Iwi Maori have lived here probably as long as the oldest trees still standing.
The original inhabitants of the Whirinaki Valley were believed to have
been ‘Te Tini o te Marangaranga”, some descendants of Toi
the great Maori chief. . Much later they were conquered and absorbed by
Wharepakau and his nephew Tangiharuru. Through this conquest Wharepakau
and Tangiharuru, with their people, occupied the lands in the Whirinaki
and Rangitaiki Valleys and their descendants have since lived in the district,
although they were forced to leave the area for a short time. Wharepakau
returned to the Whirinaki Valley and settled at Te Whaiti. It is from
this ancestor that the tribe Ngati Whare originated. Tangiharuru settled
at Pukehinau and the tribe Ngati Manawa, who have lived in the Murupara
and Galatea areas, regard him as the ancestor their name is derived from.
. Children at the Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi
School are working on a community program called Kaitiakitanga
that carries on and extends Ngati
Whare's traditional responsibilty for guardianship of the Forest and
their culture into the future. Ngati Whare also administers Minginui Village.
Maori association with the forest is deeply spiritual. Whirinaki protects
and preserves the people and legends of the past. As well it provides
traditional sources of food, herbs and building materials for cultural
purposes. These include totara for meeting houses and other carving work.
The right to take these resources is reserved for Maori and arises from
their special relationship with the forest.
The first pakeha to visit the area was believed to be the Reverend William
Colenso who came to Te Whaiti in 1842. The local Maori resisted European
intrusion, so the area became the scene of fighting and land confiscation
during the Maori land wars. By 1885 surveying of the proposed State Highway
38 began but met with resistance from the Tuhoe, one clash in 1889 lead
to the establishment of a police station at Te
Whaiti. In the same year a store was also set up there with the well-known
historian Elsdon Best as the shop keeper. The presence of the store and
road construction work gradually eased relations between Maori and European
Many pa, settlement and old gardening sites remain in the forest as reminders
of the area’s long history of occupation.
The Power of Trees:
Whirinaki is best known for its awe-inspiring trees. The greatest of these
are known as podocarps and include species such as rimu, totara, kahikatea,
matai and miro. Value has always been seen in these forest giants but
in quite different ways now from those of the past. Visitors who marvel
at their great height and size are often surprised to learn that logging
of the trees ceased as recently as the mid 1980’s.
Timber milling first began at Te Whaiti in 1928 when Crown and Maori land
was logged for totara fencing material. Demand for the high quality wood
gradually increased and by World War Two further facilities were required.
A sawmill and the original Minginui Village
were built near the present village site in the 1930’s to help the
supply of timber. Work was plentiful and eventually three sawmills were
constructed at Whirinaki. These amalgamated in 1975. The annual cut of
native trees was large - up to 30,000 cubic metres. Ongoing demand saw
fast growing exotic species planted where the much slower-growing natives
had been taken. By the late 1970s around 130 people at any one time had
been employed in the forest industry at Whirinaki.
But times were changing and in 1978 -79 a bitter public controversy raged
over the future of the forest. Conservation groups actively campaigned
to stop the native harvest and came into direct conflict with the local
forestry community which saw this as a threat to lifestyle and employment.
In 1985 a new government ended the logging or native trees and by 1987
all logging of native timber had stopped, apart from totara taken for
carving. This wood was either fallen or dying at the time it was used.
(A beautiful book "Whirinaki - To save a Forest was produced
as part or this campaign. It is now out of print, but can sometimes be
found in second hand bookshops)
The Lie of the Land: (See Whirinaki
Whirinaki is located between the central volcanic plateau and mountain
axis of the North Island. To the West is the Kaingaroa plateau, while
east and south are the Huiarau-lkawhenua ranges, bounded by the Whaeo
and Te Whaiti faults. The park therefore contains elements of volcanic
and non-volcanic landforms and soils and the plant and animal life reflect
The land is still and peaceful now but this bellies the violent origins
ot the Kaingaroa Plateau and Whirinaki basin. About 1800 years ago the
Taupo eruption ejected a great wave of pumice, destroying all in its path
and creating a new land. A lot of material also fell from the air, cloaking
the greywacke ridges to the east.
The northern part of the forest, west of the Whirinaki River, is relatively
low country which rises from 360 m to 730 m. There are beautiful river
flats and rolling, tree-covered hills and gullies. These are a marked
contrast to the steep rugged greywacke country in the south which attains
1365 m at Maungataniwha.
Plants and Animals:
Whirinaki’s most striking feature is its unique podocarp forest.
The forest is dominated by towering examples of kahikatea, totara, matai,
rimu, miro and much tawa. There is also monoao and manuka shrubland on
the frost flats, herbhleld, grassland and shrubland on riverbeds and in
forest clearings, wetland vegetation; and sub-alpine shrubland on
the high ridges and peaks. The plant life is a reflection of landforms,
altitude, and soils along with earlier disturbance from volcanic activity
and burning by humans. Exotic forests interspersed with the native, create
a patchwork effect.
The park’s birdlife is abundant and diverse. The dense podocarps
support high numbers of rare forest birds especially the North Island
kaka, red and yellow crowned kakariki and kereru. Other notable birds
include the whio (blue duck) and endangered karearea (NZ falcon.). The
frost flats of Waione and Taahau have been protected as ecological reserves
because of the special plant life associated with them and insects which
have alpine characteristics.
For those after trout, the Whirinaki, Rangitaiki, and Whaeo Rivers have
excellent fishing. Long-finned tuna (eels) also live in these river systems,
along with several other species of native fish. New Zealand’s only
native mammals, the long-tailed and short-tailed bat, are both present
but rarely seen. Alert visitors may be lucky to see a long-tailed bat
around the forest edges in the evening.
Many introduced mammals have also made Whirinaki home. These include red
deer, pigs and possums which have played a major part in modifying the
forest. Deer and possums were liberated in the late 1890s and their populations
rose to a peak around the late 1950s. Rats, mice, cats and stoats are
For information on day walks, tramping,
camping locations, accommodation
and a wide range of other activities check out the Park
Info and Be our Guest menus at the
top of these pages.
For your safety: (see also keeping
safe and emergencies)
The weather in the park can be very unpredictable and visitors should
be prepared for cold, wet spells even at the height of summer. Frosts
occur all year and snow is also likely on high ground throughout the year.
High rainfall causes rivers in the area to rise very quickly although
they usually fall rapidly once the rain stops. Warm clothing, rain-proof
gear and boots are recommended for all walks and tramps. Please leave
a record of your intentions with reliable friends or relatives or at Rangitaiki
For more DOC Information:
Rangitaiki Area Office, Department of Conservation, P0 Box 114 , State
Highway 38, Murupara.
Phone: (07) 366 1080, Fax: (07) 366 1082
For information on local services, guided walks, transport, accommodation
Click on " Be our guest" menu at the top of each Whirinaki page.