As part of our recent trip around New Zealand we flew back up to Auckland from the geologically sublime south of Queenstown and Fjordland (below). More on this and the Punga (tree ferns) trees of this area to come.
Tree line of the so called Goblin forest, Fjordland. Looking north east to sea.
From Auckland we picked up our hire car and got as far north as daylight and time would allow for the day to the winterless north and Maori land. As our enthusiasm for the days travel waned we found ourself’s approaching a campsite in the same little town as The Kauri museum. So we decided to make camp for the night and begin our introduction to the Kauri by way of the Museum. I have never seen or heard of a whole museum dedicated to one species of tree, let along one so expansive. A mainstay of the exhibitions is the storey of what I think is an underrepresented aspect of the told history of our relationship with trees and their forests. That is the life and conditions of those working at the time which is now dismissed as a senseless act of mass deforestation by a previous generations. This is not to celebrate and the museum didn’t give this feeling, but rather to tell a storey of a tough life and virgin forest unknown to us now. There is an Eastern poem i once read which some of the lives
A few of my highlights were, an exhibition larger than the combined size of all the walls in our house of Kauri gum, a whole wall display of chainsaws through the ages. It is frightening to look at some of these instruments with the eyes of modern Health and Safety. Heavy machines, no chain brake or clutch and even more lethal than todays tools. However, with big trees you need big saws.
Chainsaws of yesteryear
Lots of pictures of this and these are used with kind permission of the museum. To move such big trees through thick forest you need innovative transport. So they used to build dams to collect the logs on the high side. Then pull a release lever and wash the logs down stream to the next dam and eventually to the sea or saw mill.
From here we ventured further north to see the trees and their forest and they are massive. Photographs never do such big trees justice. Never. These trees are approximately 2000 years old and are just huge. The phrase ‘It’s just like in the movies’ always grates a little. I think it is expressed the wrong way around. For places like this are the inspiration for the movies. Here it is easy to draw comparisons with these forests and those depicted in Avatar. How easily ‘Home Tree’ could have been based on a the Kauri. Fortunately the Kauri are now protected and cannot be felled.
Kauri’s, Agathis australis, are a hard wood confier . The timber it yields is of the finest quality. A lot of the timber was used in ship building and the younger trees which grow so straight and do not deviate for the light or around other vegetation were sought out for the masts. The Maori’s used the large and strong trees to make single construction dug out canoes which could reportedly hold over 100 warriors.
The trees can grow to 50m tall and provide the emergent canopy in these forests. One of the most interesting physiological adaptations of the Kauri is how it inhibits colonisation by parasites or climbers. As with lots of conifers the lower branches are readily discarded by the tree, however, as the canopies are not particularly dense and do not prevent anything else growing at their base they need another method to prevent them being climbed upon. The bark of Kauri trees is extremely flaky. This means that once any weight is applied the bark detaches and the climbers can’t hold of for very long.