The Kauri Logging Days on The Coromandel

The Kauri tree holds a significant place in The Coromandel’s settler heritage. When the first Europeans came to New Zealand, The Coromandel and northern parts of New Zealand were blanketed in around 1,200,000 hectares of kauri forest. In the late 1700’s European pioneers found that kauri timber was ideal because of its voluminous clean-grained, durable timber that was free from knots and easy to work and nail. Shipbuilders used it for masts and spars, and by the mid-1800’s a large sawmilling industry developed and kauri soon became the preferred timber used by carpenters.

Bushmen were called to camps and shanties in the high hills of The Coromandel to meet increasing demand by local and export markets for kauri logging. Getting logs to the coast proved a challenge, especially from the more remote areas. The steep catchments, V-shaped valleys and swift rivers of The Coromandel lent themselves to a unique feat of engineering, unlike anything else seen before in New Zealand. More than 200 Kauri driving dams were built in the Whangapoua, Tairua and Kauaeranga river catchments. Kauri driving dams were built by loggers to force massive quantities of logs downstream from the more remote areas. Thousands of logs were sent down to booms below, though only 20% were estimated to arrive successfully.

By the late 1830’s, the Kauri timber industry was thriving on The Coromandel. With the Coromandel gold rush in the late 1860s and 70s, demand for timber increased. By the 1800s, local demand couldn’t keep pace with expansion and many sawmills were left bankrupt. In 1888 the Kauri Timber Company from Melbourne purchased virtually all cutting rights to standing kauri on the peninsula. Its production peaked in 1901–2. The final major logging operations and dam drives on The Coromandel were in the Kauaeranga valley in the early 1920s. All that was left were scarred hills and a visually devastated landscape.

Today, about 400 hectares of mature kauri trees remain in The Coromandel. Many of these survived because they were located in areas too difficult for loggers to access.

There are several easily accessible sites for viewing ancient kauri around The Coromandel, including The Square Kauri Tree (Tapu/Coroglen Summit), The Kauri Block Track (Coromandel) and Waiau Kauri Grove (309 Road).

The trees we see in The Coromandel today are a poignant reminder of the vast Kauri forests that reigned untouched, prior to pioneer times.