Rotorua: Several witnesses claim they have seen the shape of a full-grown dragon amongst the city's Redwood trees.
"They say it lives in these very woods. That you can hear its roar at night. They say this, they say that, but... As far as I know, not one soul has ever actually seen this dragon." - Meacham, talking about the mythical Millhaven Dragon (by the name of Elliot) he once saw as a child.
Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Forest, a very popular scenic reserve for locals and tourists alike, was chosen by Disney in 2015 for a number of scenes in the feature film Pete's Dragon which is actually set in the US state of Oregon.
I visited the forest in January 2018, the height of summer in New Zealand. It was a very hot day and the prospect of a walk through the shady forest sounded perfect. After parking my rental car next to the (excellent) visitor centre, I set out on the Redwood Memorial Grove track. The main feature of this 30-minute track is the magnificent grove of Californian Redwoods that was planted in 1901.
Admittedly, Rotorua's Redwoods are dwarfs compared to their counterparts in North America, but it was fascinating to see two iconic plants from two entirely separate land masses growing next to each other: Redwoods and tree ferns (known here as ponga trees).
The second highlight of this track is a boardwalk bridge over an old thermal pond.
Back at the carpark, I bought a ticket for the tree top walk that starts next to the visitor centre. Suspended 12 metres above ground, the walkway connects 22 Redwood trees via swingbridges that are attached to wooden plattforms around the tree trunks.
All constructions have been installed with the utmost care to ensure the wellbeing of the trees, and the local Maori - the guardians of the land - were consulted during the building process.
The newest attraction was added in December 2016 - called 'Redwoods Nightlights'.
So what about Elliot, the dragon? Well, Rotorua's Redwoods weren't the only forest location used in the movie. In fact, a number of tree scenes were filmed in New Zealand's South Island near the small rural town of Tapanui.
By the way, Meacham was telling the truth: He did have an encounter with Elliot as a little boy, and here's the proof:
Useful sources of information and additional tips for planning your visit:
Share your story