Unique look at forest giants

14 May 2015

Catherine Kirby

Catherine Kirby in a tree.

Spending a month in the forest taking photos of a tree may not be everyone's idea of a good time but Catherine Kirby thought it was great.

A National Geographic project

The University of Waikato Science and Engineering research support officer says it was a fantastic experience as her and her colleagues worked on a New Zealand version of one of the most successful National Geographic projects ever undertaken.

That American National Geographic project involved a 1500-year-old redwood tree which was portrayed in a five-page fold-out using hundreds of individual photographs.

In New Zealand, they chose a 40-metre rimu deep in the Pureora Forest.

Innovative imagery capture

Kirby and her colleagues are involved in the New Zealand Tree Project, an innovative film and photography venture that captures imagery of majestic trees and native podocarp forests from viewpoints that we rarely get to experience from the forest floor.

Scientists, photographers and expert climbers spent more than 100 hours in the tree to capture over 120,000 images and 1200 video clips during a month long expedition.

The project team even created a specialised camera rig that ran the entire 40m vertical length of the tree. The end result is an extraordinarily high quality, high resolution image from a level view point without distortion.

Telling the story of the forest

After gathering the imagery, the project team is now working on creating an exhibition which Kirby says will be a combination of art, science, history and technology.

"It will be a fusion of artistic elements capturing the beauty of the giant podocarp forests, with interesting and informative environmental educational material. We will be designing the content so it is suitable for museum exhibitions and are currently in negotiations with several museums around the country," she says.

"Not only does the New Zealand Tree Project bring you different visual view points of the forest, we also provide personal, historical and scientific perspectives of these amazing places through a series of top-quality documentaries."

Kirby and her colleagues interviewed scientists, protestors, trampers, former loggers and iwi to capture the story of forest logging, protests and conservation in Pureora Forest. This rich history will be portrayed in documentaries that showcase the natural beauty and importance of the forest.

"The Tree Project team aims to inspire Kiwis to explore and enjoy the fantastic forests that were set aside for us. They are part of our amazing backyard and when you get out there to discover them, you'll also discover why they deserve our protection."

She hopes the exhibition launch can be held at the University later this year.

For more information on the project, go to