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  • Hannah McQuilkan

The Oldest Tree

At an estimated 500 years old, this huge and sprawling pohutukawa tree located in the quiet suburban street known as ‘Pitau Rd’ in Mount Maunganui and is thought to be one of the oldest of its kind in New Zealand.


A small seedling nudged its new frond up through the sand bar that we call “the Mount” one morning between 1566 and 1616. It’s been growing and flowering ever since.


It is the last remaining Pohutukawa tree pre dating European settlement on Mount Maunganui and has significance to local iwi Ngai Te Rangi and Ngati Pukenga.


I have been holidaying at the Mount since I was a baby. My father grew up here and my Grandmother lived here until her death. It’s funny how you can think you know a place and then discover magic right under your nose. It was my Dads friend who introduced me to this majestic tree last week because he saw me on '7 Sharp' introducing Ben Hurley to Forest Bathing. He figured I’d be pretty interested in a 500 year old tree and he was right!


I visited the tree both at night and during the day and felt its still, calm grounding presence. I was in awe of its size, its was a small forest unto itself. The way this tree lives, in the middle of suburbia, sprawling into the neighbouring properties is a lovely wild addition to our controlled cultivated lives.

Maori Kaumatua Kihi Ngatai tells of the area surrounding this tree being used for the preparation of the tupapaku for burial. This process, known to Maori as hanhunga, prepares the remains of their dead for their final resting place. Early European settlers reported the finding of several skeletons placed at the base of the tree in a kneeling ceremonial position.



In 1988 with the March Cyclone Bola, several branches broke away but due to the trees historical and tapu status, the local iwi would not allow the broken branches to be trimmed.


In the mid-1990’s there was a major split out failure in the pohutukawa resulting in the propping system installed to stabilise the tree. You can see these large wooden poles in the photos, still there today.


One of the abilities of pohutukawa trees is the ability to form roots from the branches. The tree forms large aerial roots masses that take root when the branches bend down to touch the ground. By managing this process, local arborists hope that in time the tree will become self supporting and that all the artificial supports can be removed. Humans working with the tree to support it to live its best and longest life is wonderful!


If you are heading to the Mount, take a trip to Pitau Rd and visit this sacred giant. Offer your blessings and feel the blessings you receive in turn.





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