How to Discover the Best Pohutukawa Trees ~ New Zealand

Updated: Mar 29

Read on and discover the secret life of the Pohutukawa tree, a New Zealand cultural icon.

Rangitoto Island

When to go ...

Ancient forest locations

Journal Entry

Shop sketching materials

Graphic of natural distribution of Pohutukawa with a Pohutukawa bloom, tourist attraction Coromandel, Northland New Zealand
Pohutukawa in Flower. Photo and graphic credit to Janice

Maori, the first peoples of Aotearoa (New Zealand), coined the name Pohutukawa which is the common name used today. This name translates loosely from Maori to English as 'from the spray', pointing to a coastal habitat with sea spray.

The scientific name provides further insight. The generic name, Metrosideros, bestows this tree with 'iron heartwood' and the species name 'excelsus' exclaims that this tree is the 'most sublime'. Clearly, we have a magnificent, hardy coastal specimen.

Pohutukawa are endemic to New Zealand, as the graphic indicates, the natural distribution is along the coast lines, of the upper North Island. Interestingly, there is a another cultivar found on the shores of the Rotorua Lakes (central North Island).

So, travellers will find the best specimens of Pohutukawa by exploring the coast of the upper North Island of New Zealand.

Rangitoto Island is a top Sightseeing Attraction in Auckland and is home to the largest Pohutukawa Forest in the World.

Our trip to Rangitoto Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, was a day I will always treasure. Rangitoto is a newly formed volcanic island with the land made of infertile lava flows of scoria. The Island can be very dry because of a lack of ground water or streams. Yet the Pohutukawa have taken root and flourished in the harsh environment. Luckily, the volcano has been inactive for over 6oo years so it is safe to visit.

We caught the Ferry from The Downtown Quay, Auckland, and enjoyed the 20 minute cruise to Rangitoto. On the island, thanks to the well maintained walkways, I easily hiked to the summit, or in other words stood on the cone of the volcano. The view of the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world, with Auckland as a backdrop, is breathtaking. As a gardener, I am impressed that a tree can lay down roots and grow on a scoria island.

Photo Credit to Derek

Visit in Early Summer to Coincide with Blooming

Pohutukawa burst into flower from late November and bloom through December, summer time down under. It is said the north has a rim of crimson when the Pohutukawa flower and New Zealander's refer to the Pohutukawa as 'New Zealand's Christmas Tree'.

In fact, the bloom coinciding with the Christmas season solves some what of an existential crisis for New Zealanders. Despite the summer season, historically New Zealanders display the icons of Christmas that reflect the Northern Hemispheres season, winter. So, we deck out with snowy scenes and Santa wearing a thick winter coat despite the heat of summer. Using the Pohutukawa as a Christmas icon goes some way towards Aotearoa/New Zealand developing an authentic identity. Now, many of trimmings of Christmas include the colourful Pohutukawa flower! Thank goodness.

When the Pohutukawa bloom we see more than a botanical spectacle we also see birds and bees feasting on the nectar. The song of Tui rings out across the land as these cheeky birds excitedly drink their fill of nectar.

Pohutukawa Bloom

Photo credit Janice Samsung Note 8

Pohutukawa Bloom with Bee
Pohutukawa Bloom with Bee

Photo Credit Janice Samsung Note 8

Remnants of Ancient Forests

Sadly, 90 percent of the Pohutukawa Forest have been felled and we now see glimpses of once was. When you visit please take pictures and show how Pohutukawa trees are bringing the tourist dollars to New Zealand. Hopefully then the culling will stop soon.

Luckily we still have many magnificent specimens. A Pohutukawa can live for around 1000 years, grow to a height of up to 25 - 27 meters and can have a spread of over 30 meters. The tiny community of Te Aroroa, hosts the largest Pohutukawa, located in the school grounds Te Aroroa, on the East Cape of New Zealand.

We are privileged to have 2 x 600 - 800 year old specimens on our Manganese Point property, Salt Haven. Tree huggers, me included, explore our local area and are thrilled by the gnarled trees with twisted roots clinging precariously to cliffs and hanging over water ways. There are many large specimens that would be many hundreds of years old on our door step. Pohutukawa support other plant life with epiphytes and hanging roots adding to the drama. I pictured this beauty in our back yard with the epiphyte, 'Tank Lilly', cradled in her branches.

Pohutukawa with epiphytes
Gnarled branch of Pohutukawa with epiphytes - photo Janice

Journal Entry

I have based the first entry in my new Travel Journal on the Pohutukawa Tree.

  • Bark & leaf rubbing onto parchment

  • Pencil sketch, colouring pencils then charred.

  • Collage the elements on to book leaf

I am a rank amateur so follow along to see how I progress. To date I have completed a beginners course on natural history illustration.

Travel journal with nature sketch and bark rubbing collaged.  Pohutukawa bloom and bark.
Sketch and rubbing of Pohutukawa - Janice

Book Reviews

This book is particularly useful book for a beginner gaining confidence and skills in natural history drawing. Basic instruction in outline sketching and coloration is covered in a step by step format. Click through to purchase.