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The Kauri Museum - Guardians of the kauri story, past, present and future.

The Kauri Museum was opened in 1962 to commemorate the arrival of the Albertland Settlers to the district. Initial called a Pioneer Museum the museum quickly developed, through the support of the community, and our many visitors, into an unmissable stop on the Kauri Coast. The focus on the kauri tree and the stories relating to the kauri industries, industries that founded the nation of New Zealand, speak of the visionary leadership of the founders of the Museum.
From its small beginnings the Museum continued to grow and now encompasses more than 4500m2 of covered displays. We continue to explore the story of the kauri tree past, present and future.

Kauri forests

Tane iti - The Next Generation. Image by Jemma Douglas

Kauri forests once covered much of the land north of the Coromandel (south of Auckland). Abundant with bird life and a diverse range of flora and fauna the forests lived on this landscape for 100 million years.

Land clearance and logging of the ancient forest has resulted in only a small fraction of the ancient kauri remaining in the twenty first century.

Whilst concerns for the cutting down of the kauri forests began in the nineteenth century it was not until 1985 that the New Zealand Government put an end to logging of live kauri trees.

Kauri timber

Many years ago, long wide planks of faultless, superb timber were cut from the mighty kauri tree trunks. The timber was used for many purposes: ship building (including masts and spars of sailing ships), houses, furniture, bridges, fences, dams, patterns (used for metal casting), vats and tanks, barrels, large rollers (in the textile industry), railway sleepers, mine-props, carving, wood turning and a myriad other uses. Kauri timber was exported all over the world through the nineteenth century.

Swamp kauri refers to kauri timber which has been recovered from under the ground. This kauri comes from forests which were buried by natural cataclysmic events. Carbon dating indicates that logs were buried up to 50,000 years ago. Leaves and cones are often preserved in the anaerobic conditions with the logs but quickly deteriorate when exposed to the air. Swamp kauri is naturay stained by the soil it is buried beneath producing rich dark brown and greenish hues emphasising the grain.
Older kauri is on display in the museum, including a 30 million year old
Australian kauri from the Yallourn coalfield in Victoria.

Kauri Gum

Kauri gum is a resin which bleeds from the kauri tree where bark is damaged or a branch broken – the resin bleeds to seal the wound, preventing rot or water getting into the tree. Gum can build up into a hard lump. As the tree grows and bark is shed, gum is forced off to fall to the ground, a process that has been happening for millions of years. Many years ago, there were vast quantities of gum in the ground. New Zealand’s fossil kauri gum, found in coal, has been dated as 43 million years old. More recent gum from 10,000 to 30,000 years old is known as kauri copal (or resinite). This gum is our version of juvenile amber.

Kauri gum, as with the timber was an important export for New Zealand being sent overseas by the ton. It was collected from the ground by picking up the exposed pieces where the forests had once grown. As the easily found gum disappeared, the gum diggers probed in the ground with spears to locate the gum nuggets, then dug it up with spades.

Trees were also a source of gum – collectors would chip pieces of old hard gum from the branches and top (or head) of trees where it had collected for many years. Attempts were also made extract further gum by cutting the trees to bleed fresh gum, collecting it later after it developed into a hard lump.

Gum was used by Māori for cooking fires and lighting because it burns very easily. It was also had many other uses including medical remedies, for chewing gum, and the soot of burnt gum made a pigment for tattooing.