WHY ARE KAURI SO IMPORTANT?
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 years old. 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.
Kauri are naturally found throughout the upper North Island, in the Northland, Auckland and Waikato regions, and in parts of the Bay of Plenty. If you’re in natural bush and you’re in the upper North Island, it’s likely you’ll be near a kauri. Kauri have existed as a species for around 20 million years.
Kauri are a cornerstone of the indigenous forests of the upper North Island. They are also one of the longest-living tree species in the world (reaching ages of 1000 years-plus), as well as the largest.
Mature trees have an average diameter of two metres. These giants can live for more than 1000 years, The biggest can reach heights of over 50 metres, with girths of more than 13 metres.
The site, soil and temperature determine the type of forest that naturally contains kauri. There is no 'typical kauri forest': kauri can exist as solitary trees in broad leaf dominant bush or as dense stands.
When in a forest environment, mature kauri emerge above the canopy of other native trees. The lower forest can contain a variety of tree species including tōtara, tānekaha, taraire, tawa, miro and rewarewa, alongside juvenile kauri. At the shrub level a range of plant species can be found including tree ferns, nikau palms, lancewood, hangehange and mingimingi. Kauri grass is commonly found covering the ground beneath kauri. A range of orchids and epiphytic plants are also often found perching amongst the branches of mature trees.
Kauri growth requires high light levels but can tolerate low soil nutrient levels. Consequently, kauri seedlings are often suppressed under dense canopies of faster growing species in fertile soils. As a result kauri are often restricted to less fertile soils on ridges or establish en masse after a large disturbance such as a fire.
The plants, animals and ecosystems that kauri create and support are indirectly under threat from kauri dieback, as without kauri they cannot live and develop the way they do now.
Kauri have had a large part to play not just in the landscape of Aotearoa, but also in its culture, and early history. To Māori, kauri are kings of the forest and a taonga (treasure) that connects them and their spiritual world, via the following process: In the beginning, out of nothingness Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the Earth mother) were created. Rangi and Papa clung together, trapping the children they had made in a land of darkness. The strongest child Tāne 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, whose rohe includes the Waipoua Forest, believe Tane's legs were the giant trunks of kauri.
Kauri played an important role in many aspects of early Māori culture: besides being integrated into 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 also had many valuable functions. It was burned as an insecticide in kumara plots, wrapped in flax to make torches for night-fishing and used as a chewing gum (kāpia). Kauri resin was also burnt and mixed with fat to create the ink for the moko (facial tattoos) of rangatira.
Kauri were prized too by the early European settlers, who felled many of the great kauri giants for profit. The timber was valued for its strength and ability to withstand sea-water conditions (ideal for ship masts and hulls). By 1900, loggers had cleared most kauri forests. Kauri gum was also 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.
Today there are only around 7,500 hectares of mature kauri left.
"Today there are only around 7,500 hectares of mature kauri left."