The Kauri Coast

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Tane Mahuta

We woke to continuing rain this morning, but decided to bundle up in rain gear and get out to see some of the giant kauri trees in Waipoua Forest. The kauri tree is a coniferous tree that is unique to New Zealand’s North Island. It is unusual in that it can grow for hundreds, even thousands, of years, and to enormous sizes. Kauri trees do not grow quite as tall as California Redwoods or the Giant Sequoias, but have huge girth, and individual trees can produce more usable board-feet of wood than either Redwoods or Sequoias. At one time, kauri forest dominated the northern part of the North Island, but over-foresting at the turn of the twentieth century largely decimated these forests. What remains are preserved pockets of kauri trees in a handful of forest parks like Waipoua Forest, where we spent the night last night.
As we drove out of the cabin area, we noticed the river next to the road had become swollen and muddy with all of the rain overnight. It was quite a change from the drive in to the cabin yesterday, but given the heavy rain overnight, not that surprising. Our first stop was a short hike to see Tane Mahuta, ‘The Lord of the Forest’. This is New Zealand’s largest kauri tree at a height of 51 meters (167 feet) and a girth of 13.8 meters (45 feet around). Tane Mahuta is estimated to be between 1250 and 2500  years old! A longer hike took us to see the Four Sisters, a grove of smaller kauri trees, and Te Matua Ngahere, known as ‘Father of the Forest’, and New Zealand’s second largest kauri tree. These huge trees were awe-inspiring not only for their size, but for the entire forest community that calls them home. A single kauri tree can support over thirty different forest species in the nooks and crannies of its branches!

Photos from Waipoua forest:

After a little more sightseeing in Waipoua, we headed south, back towards Auckland for the night. In the coastal town of Matakohe, we visited the Kauri Museum. This was an interesting museum, in that it houses what I think started as someone’s private collection of memorabilia related to the pioneers who settled in this area of New Zealand in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What started out as a collection related to the kauri timber industry morphed into a crazy-quilt hodge-podge of machines, photos, furniture, clothing, documents, and hundreds, no, thousands of other bits and bobs. Walking through this museum there is so much about the history of the region and the timber industry, its almost impossible to digest.

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Slabs cut and finished from a kauri tree

We started with a fascinating display of wood cut from a large kauri tree on private property in the 1990s. Finished slabs ‘reconstructing’ the tree in the museum were on display. Kauri is beautiful wood and has been used to construct gorgeous furniture, many period pieces were on display in the museum. There were several slabs on display from swamp kauri, which is timber that has been recovered from forests that were buried by floods or landslides. In some cases logs that were buried up to 50,000 years ago have been excavated and used in the 21st century—they are perfectly preserved!

We also saw the museum’s huge kauri gum display. Kauri gum is hardened sap that comes from the tree, and a whole industry developed around collecting and processing the gum into wood varnish and other products. Gum is a bit like amber, and often there are insects preserved in the gum and people made a living out of polishing and carving the gum for decorative purposes.

Photos from the Kauri Museum:

After exhausting ourselves in the Kauri Museum, we continued south to Auckland and found a hotel for the night on the west side of the city. Tomorrow we are planning to visit some black sand beaches on the west coast and then head east to the Coromandel Peninsula for more white sand beaches and wild forests.

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