"Kauri are the largest rainforest trees on earth and they are to
New Zealand what the pyramids are to Egypt and Stonehenge and
cathedrals are to England,"
"They're worth more than tourism, it's about our identity."
Stephen King, Northland
The creation myth
In the beginning, out of nothingness Ranginui (the sky
father) and Papatuanuku (the earth mother) were created.
Rangi and Papa clung together, trapping the children they
had made in a land of darkness. The strongest child Tane
mahuta (the god of the forests and creator of the
forest creatures) pushed his parents apart to bring light to
the land and allow his children to flourish.
The Te Roroa iwi of Waipoua forest believe Tane's legs
were the giant trunks of kauri.
The New Zealand kauri is the largest tree in the Agathis genus
and the only Agathis species native to New Zealand.
Many of the great kauri giants were felled by early pioneers for
their high quality timber. One of the largest kauri trees ever
recorded was 'Kairaru of Tutamoe' with an estimated diameter of
6.4m and a height of 65m. Unfortunately, Kairaru was destroyed in a
fire before 1900.
The largest kauri alive today is Tane Mahuta with a diameter of
4.6m and height of 52m. It is estimated to be between 1200 and 2000
Kauri is considered a taonga species by many Māori: valued as a
connection to the spiritual beliefs and way of life of their
Kauri played an important role in many aspects of early Māori
culture: integrated in creation mythology, rituals, war, art and
everyday life. Some large trees were given names and revered as
chiefs of the forest. On special occasions, the giant trunks of
kauri were used to carve out large waka taua (sea/war canoes)
Kauri gum had many valuable functions. Gum was burned as an
insecticide in kumara plots, wrapped in flax to make torches
for night-fishing and used as a chewing gum (kapia). Kauri resin
was also burnt and mixed with fat to create the ink for moko
(facial tattooing) of rangatira.
By the 1800s, early European pioneers had developed a thriving
timber and gum industry based on kauri. Large areas of kauri
were felled for their timber, which was valued for its strength and
ability to withstand sea-water conditions (ideal for boat
masts and hulls).
Kauri gum was used in varnishes, paint, linoleum and to create
ornaments. Gum was largely collected from the ground, however some
was gathered by deliberately injuring or 'bleeding' trees.