Kauri Harvesting

Kauri is found in the northern districts of New Zealand's North Island. Other species are also found on the east coast of Australia, Solomn Islands, New Caledonia,  Borneo and Patagonia in South America. They were often harvested there as well. Kauri is a soft wood, a member of the conifer family. It is the largest (by volume) but not tallest species of tree in New Zealand, standing up to 50 m tall with a trunk girth at over 5 metres. The largest kauri trees did not attain as much height or girth at ground level but contain more timber in their cylindrical trunks than comparable Sequoias with their tapering stems. Kauri forests are among the most ancient in the world, appearing between 190 and 135 million years ago. Trees can normally live longer than 600 years with many individuals probably exceeding 1000 years.

Although today its use is far more restricted, in the past the size and strength of kauri timber made it a popular wood for construction and ship building, particularly for masts of sailing ships because of its parallel grain and the absence of branches for much of its height. Kauri is also a superb timber for boat building because of its resistance to rot. Kauri was sought after for ornamental wood panelling as well as high-end furniture, for use in the fabrication of vats, barrels, boxes, bridges, construction material, fences, moulds for metal forges, large rollers for the textile industry, railway sleepers and braces for mines and tunnels.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Kauri gum (semi-fossilised kauri resin ) was a valuable commodity, particularly for varnish, spurring the development of a gum digger industry. Kauri gum was also crafted into jewellery, keepsakes, and small decorative items. Like amber, kauri gum sometimes includes insects and plant material. The term "digger", given to New Zealand soldiers in World War I, may have come from gum diggers. By the 1890s, 70 percent of all oil varnishes made in England used kauri gum.

Heavy logging which began around 1820 and continued for a century has considerably decreased the number of kauri trees. The Government sold large areas of kauri forests to saw millers with little or no restrictions. The saw millers took the most effective and economical steps to secure the timber, resulting in much waste and destruction. Estimates are that around half of the timber was accidentally or deliberately burnt. More than half of the remainder had been exported to Australia, Britain, and other countries, while the balance was used locally to build houses and ships. Much of the timber was sold very cheaply to cover only wages and expenses.  At a sale in 1908, more than 5,000 standing kauri trees were sold for less than ₤2  per tree (₤2 in 1908 equates to around NZ$100 in 2003). By 1900, less than 10 per cent of the original kauri survived. It is estimated that today, there is 4 per cent of uncut forest left in small pockets. Existing timber is now actively recycled due to its rarity.

The logging was often conducted in very similar ways to logging in W.A. of the same period with the use of trains and similar saw mills. Because of New Zealand's steeper geopgraphy, often different methods were employed for moving cut timber. One was the Billy Goat Tramway (see photo at bottom) of an incredibly steep line straight down a hill. The other interesting method was the damming of streams, with logs being rolled into the flooded area. When all the timber was harvested, the dam was released and all the timber was washed down to a collection point down stream.

Kauri that fell thousands of years ago is known as ancient Kauri. It's harvesting is not restricted like live trees. The trees have been buried and preserved underground in swamps for thousands of years, where they were neither petrified nor turned to coal. This underground resting place, sealed from the air, became a perfectly balanced enviroment that preserved the timber. Ancient Kauri has a beautiful and distinctive grain. When polished, the wood is a deep golden colour with hues, textures and sheens that change under differing shades of light, giving it a shimmering finish.

The Kauri Museum is in Matakohe , Northland  to the south of the Waipoua Forest. It  contains many exhibits that tell the story of the pioneering days when early European settlers in the area harvested kauri timber and kauri gum.The mill recreation is a stunning example of what the old Australian and New Zealand timber mills would have looked like.

In the 1970s, kauri dieback was discovered, which is similar to the dieback in Australia. Dieback is a solid bourne mould that causes root rot, and it is one of the world's most invasive species. It is present in over 70 countries, and is causing infection and dieback over vast areas of forest.

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