Into the Fungal Heart of Orokonui Ecosanctuary
Discover a kaleidoscope of colorful mushrooms and rare species flourishing in a protected prehistoric haven just north of Dunedin.
In the verdant embrace of a protected cloud forest, a mere 20 kilometers north of Dunedin, one finds the Orokonui Ecosanctuary - a 300-hectare oasis of regeneration.
Encircled by a pest-exclusion fence, visitors enter through airlock-style double gates into an ecological island swathed in perpetual low-level canopy clouds.
It is reminiscent of the prehistoric world of Jurassic Park, and fittingly, the Maori have christened this sanctuary Te Korowai o Mihiwaka.
I recently journeyed to Orokonui with fellow fungi enthusiasts Cath Smith and Benny CK Chia. We were eager to locate the tallest tree within the sanctuary, where we had previously witnessed an explosion of mushroom diversity during the peak season in June.
Surrounding this arboreal giant was a veritable rainbow of fungi, their colors—purple, red, blue, and green—covering the forest floor like a living tapestry.
From the moment we entered Orokonui, we were inescapably drawn to the abundant fungal curiosities around us. Some species we encountered had only been documented once or a few times on iNaturalist, lending an air of mystery and discovery to our adventure.
Capturing photographs of these enchanting organisms involved navigating around obstacles, finding imaginative routes, and contorting ourselves into peculiar positions—what Cath fondly dubbed "bush pilates."
As we stood at the base of New Zealand's tallest tree, an 80-meter Eucalyptus regnans, we craned our necks upward, having spent most of our journey looking down to survey the forest understory. The ecosanctuary's unique macrocosm captivated us, as it hosts flora and fauna found nowhere else in the country.
Our foray into the Orokonui Ecosanctuary brought us face-to-face with a stunning array of fungi.
Among them were the silvery violet webcap (Cortinarius aff. alboviolaceus), with its distinctive mauve color; the bold, red-capped Cortinarius kula, abundant throughout the sanctuary; the enigmatic green skinhead (Cortinarius austrovenetus); the rare aquatic green pinball (Chlorovibrissea phialophora); the elegant blue webcap (Cortinarius rotundisporus); and the violet coral fungus (Clavaria zollingeri), with its ethereal pink tips.
We also encountered the Beenak Long Tooth (Beenakia dacostae), a rare species found on tree fern trunks and forest litter in wet forests; and the fringed cup fungus (Hymenotorrendiella clelandii), characterized by its delicate eyelash-rimmed discs.
The months of June and July have brought to light only a fraction of the diverse fungi species that inhabit the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. The prospect of discovering new species adds to the excitement of exploring this captivating macrocosm.
The sanctuary is a living testament to the value of preserving such natural treasures, offering visitors a glimpse into the primordial past and the opportunity to rediscover the wonders of the natural world.
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