The Ultimate Treehouse in the World’s Tallest Tree

The other day I had a post on my photoblog called What do Tree Surgeons do on their day off? It was about guys with climbing gear, looking ultra-cool as they climbed to the top of a huge Karri gum tree to measure it. Well, Karri gums are not indigenous to South Africa, they actually come from Australia. And climbing and measuring them isn’t unique to South Africa either – the Australians did that before us too.

In fact way back in late 1940s already the Australians had selected several of these giant gum trees, and built fire lookout platforms  in them. For those of you who don’t know what a fire lookout is here is a brief explanation: One of the best ways to detect a forest fire, has always been to have a human fire lookout, positioned in a high location or elevation above the trees, with a good view of the surrounding terrain. The fire lookouts stay in specially constructed fire lookout towers. Their chief job is to spot and report any smoke indicating the start of a wildfire. More info on Wikipedia . . . As you can imagine, with a forest of trees this tall, and no mountains around, the best place to position the lookout tower is in the highest trees.

This is what a natural Karri gum forest looks like (Image source: Orderinchaos/Wikipedia)

Isn’t the Karri forest above beautiful? In South Africa Karri gum trees are planted, so they don’t have that dense “forest-y” feel about them.

The Pemberton Karri forest (Image source: Orderinchaos/Wikipedia)

In Western Australia, there is one particular Karri tree which is reputed to be the world’s tallest fire-lookout tree.

According to Wikipedia

The Gloucester Tree is a giant karri tree in the Gloucester National Park of Western Australia. At 72 metres [236.2 feet] in height, it is the world’s tallest fire-lookout tree, and visitors can climb up to a platform in its upper branches for a spectacular view of the surrounding karri forest. Read more . . .

Below is a close-up of the Gloucester tree. Note the metal spikes that have been placed in a spiral around the trunk of the tree. Not the prettiest sight I’ve seen. However, it doesn’t look as if it’s harming the tree, and I guess for fire lookouts taking several hours to climb the tree with climbing harnesses and ropes, would be a little tedious and tiring.

The Gloucester Tree (Image source: Sean McClean/Wikipedia)

Members of the public are allowed to climb the tree, although apparently only some 20% make it to the top. I wonder if that is because of the physical effort involved, or whether they discover they have a fear of heights.

Warning sign at Gloucester tree (Image source: Heiko Volland/Wikipedia)

So this is what you see if you climb the Gloucester tree and look down. Just looking at this view in a photo makes me realize my fear of heights is still alive and well!

Looking down (Image source: Robert Young/Flickr CC)

Reading about the Gloucester Tree, reminded me of a story I’d heard on a podcast of the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Ockham’s Razor programme. In this episode Roger Underwood (described as “a forester, who likes trees” – I have never met one who doesn’t!) tells the story of how they went about measuring the Gloucester Tree. Don’t you think “Underwood” is an appropriate name for a forester?

A short excerpt from Roger Underwood’s tale:

There was a sign at the foot of the tree. On the sign, and in the pamphlet put out by the Tourist Bureau, and on the postcards of the tree sold in every shop in town, and in the literature issued to visitors by the Forests Department, was the incontestable and incontrovertible fact that the Gloucester Tree fire lookout was ‘212 feet tall [64.6 metres], measured to the floor of the cabin’. It was a figure I had confidently quoted on numerous occasions, not the least to Lord Casey, the Governor-General of Australia, who had inspected the tree (from the ground) under my expert guidance earlier that year. Lord Casey had evinced mild interest in my explanation but the tree had been named after one of his predecessors, the Duke of Gloucester, who had visited the tree in 1948 during its construction.

But to return to our day of tree measuring in 1969. Not only did Jack and I know with confidence that the exact height of Gloucester Tree was 212 feet to the cabin floor, but there were advantages for our purpose.

You just know from this piece that things are not going to go according to plan! If you want to listen to the podcast or read the transcript to find out the rest of the story click here. The story is told with that dry wit which most Australians seem born with.


Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Nature/Environment, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

15 Comments on “The Ultimate Treehouse in the World’s Tallest Tree”

  1. January 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Holy cow. That is one seriously scary view down. I don’t think I’m going to climb up either. Could we have a picnic underneath while the braver folk climb up with the camera, and then pose for the top-down photos instead? I mean, they’ll need someone on the ground to give an indication of scale, surely…. ;-P

  2. bagnidilucca
    January 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    We learned about the huge karri trees at school. Do you have Jarrah trees there as well? I think they grow in the same forests in WA. I could live without climbing that tree.

    • January 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

      Climbing a tree that size wouldn’t be one of my life ambitions either!

      I don’t know about the Jarrah trees. Will have to ask somebody in forestry.

    • January 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

      According to my forestry contact:

      “Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) trees are grown in plantations in South Africa. The wood is used for railway sleepers due to its hardness, durability and resistance to fungi. However, the trees do not grow as well here – are relatively slow growing.

      The oldest Jarrah tree in South Africa was planted in 1895, at the Tokai Arboretum near Cape Town.”

  3. January 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    The first time I saw a photo of that tree I wanted to climb it right away! Unfortunately I’ve not been able to get across to Western Australia.

    Great post – there’s so many cool stories out there, and this is definitely one of them!

  4. January 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Mama Mia–that’s one hell of a tree! Really fascinating, Lisa–and that’s what I love about your blog–always something surprising! Have to admit though, that I’ve always had a child-like fascination with tree houses. Very fun post!

    • January 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

      Glad you liked the post. I love trees, but I think I’ll stay away from trees and tree climbing for a while.

  5. January 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    Eish, my palms are sweaty even looking at that photo! There’s no way I could climb a tree like that – unlike David! I’d rather hear accounts of what the view is like from up there.
    Sunshine xx

    • January 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

      I feel the same way. David is young and adventurous and . . . a guy!:-)

  6. January 20, 2011 at 12:30 am #

    it´s very interesting!! I´d love to climg those trees and take pictures from there!! amazing!!

    • January 20, 2011 at 5:52 am #

      I imagine you would be able to take some wonderful photos from up there.

  7. January 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Great read, Lisa! I’m not sure I’d climb the Gloucester Tree…it doesn’t look the safest, and that’s a long way to climb. So, I’d say the physical effort is probably the biggest deterent for the 80%. I was wondering about the spikes in the side of the tree as well. I’ve heard that copper kills trees if absorbed, but it looks like plain old metal spikes are okay.

    • January 21, 2011 at 8:21 am #

      Thanks! I think it’s a pity that they did put metal spikes in such a beautiful tree. I wonder if there would have been another way to do it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: