Tall evergreen rainforest clothed more than 70% of the Waikato Region prior to human settlement. Forest composition varied mainly with altitude, topography and latitude.
Coastal forests were dominated by pohutukawa and had other frost intolerant trees such as karaka, puriri and kohekohe. Lowlands were mainly covered in conifer-broadleaved forest with rimu and tawa most prominent.
Within this zone, dense mixed conifer forests were a feature of some areas affected by recent volcanic eruption or on periodically flooded river flats. Poorly drained sites had swamp and semi-swamp forests with abundant kahikatea, pukatea and/or swamp maire.
The uplands including ranges and dormant volcanic cones were more variable and comprised various combinations of conifers, broadleaved and beech forest with the major species including hardy trees such as kamahi, Halls totara, tawheowheo, tawari and silver beech.
Northern forests were significantly different to those of the central and southern areas because of the abundant presence of kauri, tanekaha, hard beech and taraire north of the so called ‘kauri line’ at approximately 38 degrees south latitude (approximately Kawhia through Te Awamutu to Tirau).
These patterns of forest composition are still evident on the landscape but the remaining forests (20% of the Waikato region) are largely confined to the uplands with a patchwork of remnants and second growth characterizing the coastal and lowland zones.