Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula were once covered in mixed forest dominated by the mighty kauri, the world’s second-largest tree. By the early twentieth century, rapacious Europeans had nearly felled the lot, the only extensive pockets remaining in the Waipoua and Trounson kauri forests south of the Hokianga Harbour. Though small stands of kauri can be found all over Northland, three-quarters of all the surviving mature trees grow in these two small forests, which between them cover barely 100 square kilometres. Walks provide access to the more celebrated examples, which dwarf the surrounding tataire, kohekohe and towai trees.
Just south of the Trounson forest are the Kai Iwi Lakes, a trio of popular dune lakes that get busy in the summer season.
This area is home to the Te Roroa people who traditionally used the kauri sparingly. Simple tools made felling and working these huge trees a difficult task, and one reserved for major projects such as large war canoes. Once the Europeans arrived with metal tools, bullock trains, wheels and winches, clear felling became easier, and most of the trees had gone by the end of the nineteenth century. The efforts of several campaigning organizations eventually bore fruit in 1952, when much of the remaining forest was designated the Waipoua Sanctuary. It’s now illegal to fell a kauri except in specified circumstances, such as culling a diseased or dying tree, or when constructing a new ceremonial canoe.Read More
Waipoua Kauri Forest
Waipoua Kauri Forest
Heading south from the Hokianga Harbour area, you pass through farmland and arrive at Waimamaku, home to the daytime-only Morrell’s Café. The highway then twists and turns through nearly 20km of mature kauri in the WAIPOUA KAURI FOREST. Eight kilometres south of Waimamaku you reach a small car park, from where it’s a three-minute walk to New Zealand’s mightiest tree, the 2000-year-old Tane Mahuta, “God of the Forest”. A vast wall of bark 6m wide rises nearly 18m to the lowest branches, covered in epiphytes. A kilometre or so further south on SH12, a ten-minute track leads to a clearing where three paths split off to notable trees: the shortest (5min return) runs to the Four Sisters, relatively slender kauri all growing close together; a second path (30min return) winds among numerous big trees to Te Matua Ngahere, the “Father of the Forest”, the second-largest tree in New Zealand – shorter than Tane Mahuta but fatter and in some ways more impressive. The third path, the Yakas Track (3km return; 1hr), leads to Cathedral Grove, a dense conglomeration of trees, the largest being the Yakas Kauri, named after veteran bushman Nicholas Yakas.
Trounson Kauri Park
Trounson Kauri Park
Trounson Kauri Park is a small but superb stand of kauri where the Trounson Kauri Walk (40min loop) weaves though lovely rainforest. In 1997, Trounson was turned into a “mainland island” in order to foster North Island brown kiwi survival. Numbers are up significantly, and you’ve a good chance of seeing them – along with weta and glowworms – if you stay over. A tour of the kauri stands is easy enough to do on your own, but Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park offers a guided night walk (non-guests $25).
The kauri and its uses
The kauri and its uses
The kauri (agathis australis) ranks alongside the sequoias of California as one of the largest trees in existence. Unlike the sequoias, which are useless as furniture timber, kauri produce beautiful wood, a fact that hastened its demise and spawned the industries that dominated New Zealand’s economy in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The kauri is a type of pine that now grows only in New Zealand, though it once also grew in Australia and Southeast Asia, where it still has close relations. Identifiable remains of kauri forests are found all over New Zealand, but by the time humans arrived on the scene its range had contracted to Northland, Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula and northern Waikato. Individual trees can live over 2000 years, reaching 50m in height and 20m in girth, finally toppling over as the rotting core becomes too weak to support its immense weight.
Maori have long used mature kauri for dugout canoes, but it was the “rickers” (young trees) that first drew the attention of European loggers since they formed perfect spars for sailing ships. The bigger trees soon earned an unmatched reputation for their durable, easy-to-work and blemish-free wood, with its straight, fine grain. Loggers’ ingenuity was taxed to the limit by the difficulty of getting such huge logs out of the bush. On easier terrain, bullock wagons with up to twelve teams were lashed together to haul the logs onto primitive roads or tramways. Horse-turned winches were used on steeper ground and, where water could be deployed to transport the timber, dams were constructed from hewn logs. In narrow valleys and gullies all over Northland and the Coromandel, loggers constructed kauri dams up to 20m high and 60m across, with trapdoors at the base. Trees along the sides of the valley were felled while the dam was filling, then the dam was opened to flush the floating trunks down the valley to inlets where the logs were rafted up and towed to the mills.
Once an area had been logged, the gum diggers typically moved in. Like most pines, kauri exudes a thick resin to cover any scars inflicted on it, and huge accretions form on the sides of trunks and in globules around the base. Maori chewed the gum, made torches from it to attract fish at night and burned the powdered resin to form a pigment used for moko (traditional tattoos). Once Pakeha got in on the act, it was exported as a raw material for furniture varnishes, linoleum, denture moulds and the “gilt” edging on books. When it could no longer be found on the ground, diggers – mostly Dalmatian, but also Maori, Chinese and Malaysian – thrust long poles into the earth and hooked out pieces with bent rods; elsewhere, the ground was dug up and sluiced to recover the gum. Almost all New Zealand gum was exported, but by the early twentieth century synthetic resins had captured the gum market. Kauri gum is still considered one of the finest varnishes for musical instruments, and occasional accidental finds supply such specialist needs.
In recent years the kauri have been further threatened by a new disease known as PTA or kauri dieback (w kauridieback.co.nz) with symptoms including yellowed leaves, dead branches and resinous lesions close to the ground, eventually leading to the tree’s death. The disease is transmitted through soil and water, so always keep to the tracks and boardwalks and clean your footwear after visiting a kauri forest.