Through goblin forest
The two highest peaks in the park are Pureora, which rises to 1165 metres, and the nearby Titiraupenga, which is slightly lower.
These mountains help to mark the western edge of the rohe of the Tainui peoples, and they were close to the border of the Rohe Potae, or 'Country of the Hat', which existed as a de facto independent state in the central North Island between 1864 and 1883.
The high plain that borders the forest on the north has a strange quality, especially when a dry summer drains it of colour. The porous limestone rocks of the King Country and the hard volcanic rocks thrown up by the repeated eruptions that made Lake Taupo are scattered across sheep country that has been unwisely converted into dairy farmland in recent years. In between the farms are blocks of doomed radiata pine, planted when the pumice soil of the plain was not thought capable of sustaining sheep, let alone cows.
The track to the summit of Pureora starts about seven hundred metres up, at the edge of a road built to take logging trucks to the radiata. The rimu and matai (red and black native pines) on either side of the road grow as high as eighty feet. Some isolated trees are protected in the midst of radiata and farmland; through the mist, they look like giants striding south, back to the safety of the virgin forest.
As the track climbs higher up the northern side of Pureora, the huge podocarps drop away, and a so-called 'goblin forest' begins. The air is damp, and epiphytes and creepers hang from or scale the trunks and branches of smaller trees. In A Ride Through the Disturbed Districts of New Zealand, his ill-tempered portrait of the wartorn North Island of 1870, Herbert Mead remembers the goblin forest of Pureora with a certain dread:
There is a silence peculiar to the forest...Brilliant parasites and creepers hang from the uppermost boughs of the loftiest trees, straight as cathedral bell-ropes...It is absence of living things that renders the silence and solitude of these woods so oppressive...this is the silence of the dead, or of something waiting to be born.
The pumice soil of the Pureora area absorbs water very slowly, so that swamps and lagoons form easily, even in the midst of high-altitude bush. These 'mountain mires' are exceptional in New Zealand, where most wetlands are found at low altitude. Trampers have to watch their step.
From the top of Pureora, the forest stretches away to the south, bordered on the east by Lake Taupo and on the west by the scruffy farms of the King Country.
The forest that surrounds and scales Pureora was an important resource for Tainui, but relatively little archaeological work has been done in its depths. Aerial surveys revealed a number of interesting sites, but it was only in 1994, at the urging of the Waitangi Tribunal, that some archaeologists got around to bushcrashing the place and doing a basic site survey. Even now, there is very little published information about the history of human activities in Pureora. And it's not only the boffins who seem to have neglected the area: during the three hours it took us to get to the top of Mt Pureora and down again, we didn't see any other trampers.