By gum, it’s a long way up!

Each year, Otago Polytechnic arboriculture students complete their studies by climbing the tallest tree in New Zealand. It’s a Eucalyptus regnans at Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Jacob McSweeny gives his take on what the view was like from the top.

It's exhilarating and exhausting at the top of New Zealand’s tallest tree.

I don’t want to spend too long looking at the ground realising just how far up I am. It’s frightening.

The first 40m are the worst. There are no branches to block your view to the ground. Before this, the tallest tree I’d climbed was a 25m Pinus radiata. The first branch on this tree is at about 35m.

Enjoying the view from the top of New Zealand’s tallest tree. Photos: Jacob McSweeny
Enjoying the view from the top of New Zealand’s tallest tree. Photos: Jacob McSweeny
The upper canopy of the tree is like any eucalyptus tree. There’s bark peeling off in strips as long as 5m, leaving behind a smooth and white trunk. There are good strong branches every two or three metres to manoeuvre around. There are also several dead branches.

The thing about New Zealand’s tallest tree is that it’s surrounded by trees of a similar height — not quite as tall, but they are also massive. That means it doesn’t stand head and shoulders above the rest.

The tree stands at 82.7m after this year’s measurement.
The tree stands at 82.7m after this year’s measurement.
To get to the first branch we have to use a device known as a ‘‘Big Shot’’ — a type of slingshot that sends a thin line (what arborists call a throwline) over one of the first branches in the tree — about 40m up.

Tutor Ben Fentiman used that line to send his rope up and over a good branch to hang off. He then used a weighted ball and throwline to continue up the tree to the top. Along the way he set other ropes for students to get into the upper canopy.

Two of the ropes went to about 60m and from there we connected our harnesses to a final rope that we climbed to the top.

The last person to climb the tree, tutor Alvar del Castillo, sends a tape measure down to get the tree’s new height. He can’t stand on the very tip top of the tree — it’s too thin to hold his weight — so he uses a long stick measured at 5m and adds that to the tape measure.

The tree has grown 40cm on the previous year’s measurement to 82.7m.

At the top of the tree, there’s a nice spot to stand and take in the view. It feels really good having made it there. I get my phone out and take some photos.

Then it’s time to start descending. Once I’m down I get a real adrenaline rush and I’m very grateful to have my feet on the ground again.

Jacob McSweeny is a business journalist with the Otago Daily Times who spent the year studying arboriculture at Otago Polytechnic.

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