Monday, May 4, 2009


The recent gale toppled a 1000 year old kauri in a reserve near Huntly. There were two of these gigantic trees there. I saw them several times when I lived in Hamilton. The one that went down was rotten inside. Even the kauri is not eternal. It would have been a seedling round about the time William the Conqueror set sail for England. When I lived at Thames and drove over the Coromandel Range there were a few isolated trees towering over the rest of the bush, remnants of a departed glory.

The gigantic size of these old trees is a marvel. Anne and I walked in once to view Tane Mahuta the grand-daddy of them all on our way to Opononi. What a sight those kauri forests must have been and how quickly they were destroyed. Mum’s childhood was spent on a farm north of Dargaville. She describes watching the felling of a large kauri. “It didn’t seem right, this sudden huge gap in the landscape. I’ve never seen anything more dreadful.” She and Uncle Charlie ran along the fallen trunk.

The speed with which these great trees were cut down illustrates our species’ continuing capacity to plunder the environment. 19th century, the idea of sustainability was hardly existent. Not just the kauri. Kahikatea were felled for butter boxes. And on Banks Peninsula the totara had a similar fate. The mill at Little River pre-dated farming. We were proudly told at school how logs from the local area were rafted across Lakes Forsyth and Ellesmere to be used as piles for the first Rakia River bridge.

Our last Northland holiday was spent at Cable Bay near Mangonui. From there we visited the ancient kauri workshop in Awakino. I must admit it’s a splendid timber. The pieces were made from dug-up swamp kauri, products ranging from envelope openers to huge wooden couches suitable for an executive waiting room. There was even a spiral staircase carved out of a single trunk.

North of Awakino is a tourist attraction called the Gumdigger’s Walk through manuka regrowth over 42,000 year old stumps exposed by the 19th century search for kauri gum. That ancient forest had been flattened in a manner that the experts believe would have been caused by a tsunami. What a wall of water that must have been. The walk is punctuated by scale replicas of huts and tools the diggers used. Anne learnt the origin of the word gum-boot. In the swamp the diggers needed water-proof footware.

As the fallen tree is rotten it’ll be left to decay where it lies. This saves DOC the dilemma of whether to mill the trunk. Sometimes it’s not an ill-wind.

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