The Big Tree in Peel Forest is a magical spot in the depths of the Peel Forest. At just under 150 km (approximately two hours drive) south-west of Christchurch, it's an easy day trip from the city, a summer weekend camping spot, or a reasonably easy to access stopping point when travelling further south.
You can start the walk from the car park at the open, grassy Te Wanahu Flat (see photo below) on Peel Forest Road, roughly 12 km north of the Inland Scenic Route 72. You can also start from the sign beside the road just before reaching Te Wanahu Flat. Much of the walk coincides with a wheelchair accessible trail through the forest, and as such is relatively broad and open, with an even surface under foot. There are some small hills with steps, but the total walk is only 15 minutes each way, and suitable for children.
The start or end of the walk to the Big Tree from Te Wanahu Flat
How big is the Big Tree? I really enjoyed reading the information boards that tease you along the way, pointing out younger Tōtara trees that are very big, but not the biggest in the forest. For that you have to keep walking.
The Big Tree is aptly named, because at 31 metres, it's not that tall, but the girth at the base is huge. With four people holding hands, we managed to get less than half way around the trunk. It is 8.4 metres in diameter, making it one of the stoutest in the world. Stretch your arms as far as you can to give this 1000-year-old giant a hug, or stare up in awe at the dead straight trunk that effortlessly punches through the rest of the forest canopy. The endearing twists of vibrantly coloured bark nestled in this little hollow patch of ground lend the tree a mystical quality that can only be sensed by being there.
After visiting the Big Tree, other nearby attractions accessible from Te Wanahu Flat include the walk to Acland Falls, which is a slightly longer and more strenuous walk at roughly 1 km from the car park. To explore more, you can also camp overnight at the Peel Forest Park Campground, which has powered and unpowered sites, a handful of cabins, plus communal facilities. It's located a few hundred metres further along Peel Forest Road. The campground is open from the last week of September through to the Anzac Day weekend in late April, with bookings essential from December to March.