History - Ghosts of a kauri forest past

By: Maureen Young

I am sure that many New Zealanders have often tried to visualise the historic cover of our modified landscape. Around Warkworth and the Mahurangi district this is not difficult to imagine, as there is still much evidence to show that the land was once largely under kauri forest. Remnants abound along the Mahurangi River, both on the saltwater and freshwater reaches, and the two giants in Parry Kauri Park are reminders of the magnificence of that which has been lost.

The kauri at 4 Pulham Road.
The kauri at 4 Pulham Road.

Between 1820 and 1840, HMS Buffalo was busy along the Mahurangi, felling kauri rickers for masts and spars for the British Navy. This was necessary as Britain didn’t grow the conifers needed, and traditional supplies were curtailed when Napoleon closed the Baltic to Britain. The specific instructions were for straight trunks that were 74 to 84 feet long and 21 to 23 inches in diameter at the base. Some people call any small kauri tree a ricker, but this is incorrect. Small conical-shaped trees are too small to be considered rickers. The private loggers who were busy in the district at the same time as the men from the Buffalo were unable to persuade Maori labourers to work for them, because the Navy could pay more than they could.

A scattering of kauri trees is growing in suburban gardens along the northwest end of Pulham Road, and the upper reaches of Bertram, Palmer and Percy Streets in Warkworth, which is unusual as these trees were not planted but are remnants of the original cover of this ridge. They would now be 100 or more years old.

The house at 24 Pulham Road used to have a paddock attached and growing in that paddock was a small, conical kauri tree. This has recently been felled because of kauri dieback. Along the road, in the garden of the house at 4 Pulham Road, which was previously owned by Stan Moore (the brother of Dr Lucy Moore, DSIR botanist) grew a bigger kauri. Rumour has it that Lucy Moore had planted this kauri. When I contacted Lucy’s nephew, Kerry Moore, he put paid to this rumour. When Kerry’s father, Stan, cleared the land to build his house around the year 1930, the tree was a sapling. Stan reached to the top of it and tied a knot in it. It had a bulge at the top for some years afterwards. In the early 1960s, the Moores cleared their bush and subdivided the land and Bertram Street was extended to service the new sections. On the back boundary of one of these sections grows the biggest of the trees, one that was previously situated at the back of Moore’s bush.

At the end of Pulham Road, a clay track (now Palmer Street) led downhill to what was then the main highway. In the late 1940s, the scrubby manuka, gorse and bracken that grew on the south side of this track was crushed, with a view to subdividing the land. On the higher land (now an extension of Percy Street) were a number of conical kauri, standing like sentinels above the devastation. In what can only be considered a small miracle, these trees were not felled when the land was cleared, but were included in several of the sections that were then put up for sale.

Maureen Young, Warkworth & District Museum


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