The giant kauri trees of Waipoua Forest and New Zealand's northernmost tip, Cape Reinga, are the main highlights of the staunchly Maori province of Northland.
Celebrated for its warm weather, beautiful coastline and ancient forests, Northland is also regarded as the ‘birthplace of a nation' - the place where Maori first set foot in New Zealand and also signed the Treaty of Waitangi, which ceded sovereignty to Britain.
The kauri trees of Northland's Waipoua Forest are an awesome sight and rank alongside the sequoias of California as some of the planet's largest trees. The Maori used Kauri wood to craft dugout canoes and the gum for moko (traditional tattoos), while the Europeans used kauris for sailing ships and as a polish for furniture and musical instruments. All of this significantly reduced the number of kauri trees, yet there remain some giants. Tane Mahuta is more than 50 metres tall, has a girth of almost 14 metres and is believed to be between 1,200 and 2,000 years old.
Another, Te Matua Ngahere, the ‘Father of the Forest', is not as tall but is even broader and older, maybe up to 3,000 years old.
Elsewhere are four kauris growing close together known as the Four Sisters, and other enormous kauris that can be seen from a series of forest tracks looked after by the Department of Conversation.
Another highlight of Northland is Cape Reinga, the ‘place of leaping' where spirits of the Maori dead are said to depart this world. It's thought that they get there via Ninety Mile Beach (actually more like 90 kilometres long), and travellers today can follow the same route, though in modern buses specifically designed to drive along the hard-packed sand at the edge of the surf.
The Maori also know the cape as Te Hika o te Ika (the ‘tail of the fish'), recalling the legend of Maui pulling up the North Island (the fish) from the sea while in his canoe (the South Island). Much of this sacred area is Maori owned and some parts are off-limits to travellers.
However there are some excellent coastal tracks operated by the Department of Conversation and fabulous sea views to be had, especially from the hill above the Cape Reinga lighthouse.