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6 ancient forests to explore in Auckland

Published: 23 January 2018

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Explore an ancient world in an urban environment

Take a walk through these unique urban forests. 

The Auckland urban area was once covered in lush, tall forest. The legacy of this majestic world remains in only a few precious patches around Auckland, many of which are easily accessible and well worth a visit. 

1. Pūriri Cathedral Grove, Smiths Bush

Northcote Road, Northcote. Main entrance from Onewa Domain

Kahikatea forests are found in locations with high water tables, such as wet depressions and flat terraces beside major watercourses. These same landforms are perfect for farming and building houses so kahikatea forests have been almost entirely cleared from urban Auckland.

One of the best examples left is Smiths Bush, a green urban oasis of soaring trees and raucous tūī, right beside the northern motorway. Nestled within the kahikatea is a magnificent stand of pūriri.

Kahikatea forest at Smiths Bush
Pūriri Cathedral Grove, Smiths Bush

2. Chatswood Reserve kauri forest 

Onetaunga Road, Birkenhead

The network of reserves in the Chatswood-Birkenhead area contains the best example of kauri-podocarp forest in urban Auckland. This is also the only place where you will see hard beech forest. Much of this forest is young (less than 150 years old), but it includes pockets of kauri and hard beech forest that are more than 400 years old. This mature forest represents the pre-human vegetation of urban North Shore.

Kauri forest in Chatswood Reserve
Kauri forest in Chatswood Reserve

Help protect our kauri

Kauri dieback is an incurable disease threatening kauri trees. You can help protect our kauri by three easy steps:

  • Scrub – clean all soil off your footwear and other gear, every time you enter or leave a forest/area with native trees.
  • Spray – your footwear and gear at every cleaning station. Kauri dieback can be spread by just a pinhead of soil.
  • Stay – on the designated open tracks.

Visit for more information about the rāhui and track closures in the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park.  

3. Withiel Thomas Reserve lava forest 

Withiel Drive, Epsom

Indigenous lava forest grows on recent lava flows that have yet to develop a proper soil. Nationally, lava forest is uncommon. The few remnants in urban Auckland – most notably at Gribblehirst Park and Maungawhau / Mt Eden – represent the last 0.5 per cent of an indigenous ecosystem type that has been almost totally removed.

4. Waikumete Cemetery gumland scrub

Great North Road, Glen Eden

Gumlands grow where climate, acidic leaf litter, infertile parent rock and time have combined to create a low-nutrient, waterlogged soil substrate that will not support tall forest. Gumland vegetation is characterised by low scrub, sedgeland and fernland. The best example in Auckland is at Waikumete Cemetery.

Gumland scrub at Waikumete Cemetery
Gumland scrub at Waikumete Cemetery

5. Manurewa native forest remnants 

Mature native forest is now very rare in urban Auckland. Some excellent examples of mature tōtara, pūriri, kahikatea-pukatea and kānuka forest are found in a cluster of council reserves in Manurewa. These include the Auckland Botanic Gardens, Hillcrest Grove Reserve (73R Hill Road, Hill Park), Orford Park (40R Hill Road, Hill Park), and David Nathan Park (68R Hill Road, Hill Park.

The tōtara, regenerating kānuka and kahikatea-pukatea forest is a successional community, meaning the tōtara and kānuka will be replaced by other (hopefully native) trees slowly over time.

Manurewa Native Forest
Manurewa native forest remnants

6. Taraire Forest at Kirks Bush 

377 Great South Road, Papakura

Mature taraire forest, with other native tree species such as kohekohe, pūriri, tōwai, tawa and rimu, covered large parts of south Auckland in pre-human times. Around 98 per cent of this forest type has been cleared from this area because the land was highly valued for farming and building settlements. This means remnants like those at Kirks Bush are incredibly valuable for their biodiversity, as well as great places to unwind.