Volume 10

Tairua Forest: A History

Ian Barton


Early station reports from the post-war period highlight the need to catch up on essential tasks, neglected because of labour shortages during the war. Chief amongst these was clearing firebreaks, especially along the main road through the forest. A fire lookout, possibly the first permanent one, was appointed on 1 Nov 1948.

From the kauri logging days until the present, fire protection has always been important at Tairua. The first major challenge to the young exotic forest came in 1946 when a period of severe drought from December 1945 until March 1946 created a period of unprecedented fire risk over most of the North Island. Fortunately the efforts of the Forest Service over preceding years paid off for only 161 acres of State Forest, and this at Tairua, was burnt compared to 32,676 acres of privately owned exotic forest, mainly in the Rotorua –Taupo area. The reason State Forests suffered little loss was because they had developed a system of fire prediction, based on meteorological readings and the regular weighing of fuel -moisture sticks, to give warning of sudden changes in fire conditions. They also had fire plans, arrangements with local farmers and others, regular aerial reconnaissance, fire lookouts in most major forests1 and fire-fighting equipment readily available. .

Because of its relative isolation and heavily indented coastline, which caused variable winds, Tairua was particularly vulnerable to fire. The one which did the damage began at 3 pm on 5 February 1946 in the Wentworth Valley, south of the forest. However some misleading information, the blowing of hot embers for up to a kilometre, and very variable winds contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, which moved north on a 3 to 4 km wide front, narrowly skirting the township of Whangamata. In the early morning of Monday 11th, with the Conservator of Forests, R D Campbell in charge, the decision was made to back-burn south from a road (probably the present day Causeway Road) near Te Weiti Stream using Forest Service men, P.W.D workers and local farmers. Initially all went well but the wind rose and changed from SW to SE, causing the fire to jump the road on its north side. Several men were burnt at this time, one severely, but strenuous efforts enabled them to save the P.W.D Camp and Mr Watt’s nearby home, although the fire continued to be too strong to control. Gradually the wind dropped, the fire slowed, further back burning was successful and the tide was turned about 11 am 11th February. Spot fires continued to be a problem and mopping up was still being done on the 20th, 15 days after the fire began. This work was greatly assisted by 30 Airforce Personnel, with a trailer pump, who had been sent to help. Rain on the 23rd and 24th helped but mopping up continued for several more days.

A major problem faced by people on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula at this time was access to the towns and services of the western side. Attempts to overcome this had begun before the First World War and a bridle track was apparently in place by the outbreak of war. When returned soldiers took up farms in the Hikuai Valley they began lobbying in 1921 for the link to Kopu to be upgraded. Further development at this time was probably prevented by the depression and the Second World War; but In 1955 pressure to get the road built began again although 12 years were to elapse before it was opened in 1967. The trip from Auckland to the Forest HQ was now reduced from 229 to 174 km; and over a sealed road! (Thames Star 27 July 1955)

Electric power reticulation of the Coromandel peninsula was slow in coming and did not begin until 1959; reaching Tairua in 1961 and Hikuai in 19622.

The eradication of noxious animals was reported on occasionally in the station monthly reports, mostly being done by staff hunting during weekends. Goats and especially pigs were quite numerous; in May 1949 the tally was 54 pigs and 11 goats and in December 1949, 49 pigs were killed.

Renewed consideration of the suitability of the species planted at Tairua began again soon after the war when Forester A D McKinnon reported on the quality of the early plantings of Pinus radiata. In March 1947, he stated this was of relatively poor quality and that it should be harvested as early as possible with the sites replanted with high increment, high quality stands. He did not indicate which species was to replace the P radiata.

While the bulk of the forest planting was confined to exotic species, some natives were planted. A hectare of kauri (2500 seedlings ex Waipoua Nursery) was planted on the west side of the road just south of the nursery in 1949, under a canopy of 18 year old mixed P ponderosa, P patula and Cupressus lusitanica. A sample plot was established in 1950 and the seedlings were released several times during the first eight years ; two months after planting the survival of the kauri seedlings was 70%. By 1976, at age 27, their mean height was 8.9 metres (max.15.75m) and mean diameter 7.9 cm (max. 17.1 cm). These figures (mean annual increments of 32 cm height and 0.3cm diameter) are similar to those from other plantations but are somewhat lower than the best plantation rate of 0.9m. annual height increment and 1.77 cm annual diameter increment, obtained at a good site near Tauranga. (IB Pers comm)

It had become quite obvious by the late 1950’s that many of the species originally planted had not grown well. This was particularly so for the Pinus ponderosa (prob. var scopulorum), the original seed of which had been sourced from sites not suited to New Zealand conditions and of which almost 3300 acres had been planted at Tairua. Although stocking was fairly reasonable, growth was extremely slow; consequently areas of P ponderosa at Tairua were scheduled for conversion to other species. In a report dated June 1963 Forester John Wendelken, who was writing a Working Plan for Tairua forest, reported that 300 acres of this was to be converted to P radiata annually and this work was to continue for the next 14 years. Wendelken reported again in July 1967 and commented that poor areas of Corsican pine should also be converted

By 1950 some consideration was being given to future harvesting and a report by the Timber Sales Officer, H G Carter, from Wellington indicates that the yield was expected to be about 300 m3 per hectare – very low by today’s standards. He felt that a mill could be built beside the Whangamata harbour.


A consequence of the heavy concentration of kauri throughout the original forest was acidic soils and depletion of nutrients. But not until the report of C M Smith on 19 March 1934 and the soil sample he had done at the time was attention drawn to these deficiencies at Tairua. However the depression and onset of the 2nd world war meant that nothing could be done until the 1950’s when the Soil Bureau of D.S.I.R was commissioned to map and describe the soils of the forest. The work was undertaken by Charlie Sutherland and Ted Cox –the former a veteran of Soil Bureau and the latter relatively new. Staying with their wives in cabins at the Whangamata Camping ground they worked on the job at various times between March and October 1956 with the final report coming out soon after.

By late 1958 discussions were afoot re the possibility of aerially topdressing the P radiata and in April 1959 Graeme Weston of FRI advised their interpretation the situation at Tairua:-

  • long history of unthriftyness of P radiata at the forest similar to phosphate deficiency in other forests,
  • trial plots at Tairua have shown response to phosphate application.
  • foliage samples have been analysed as P deficient.

Results suggested that aerial application of phosphate would be beneficial and application at 5 cwt per acre (630 kg/ha) was advised. It was originally proposed to fly the fertilizer on from a strip on Papamaire Island, near the forest HQ but James Aviation preferred the option of building a new strip on the old nursery site at Wharekawa where the flat land enabled the strip to be completed at minimal cost. In the two years up to November 1961 almost 3200 acres was topdressed.

Top-dressing with phosphate, when required, then became a part of the silvicultural treatment of Tairua Forest; causing Lindsay Poole, then Director General of Forests, to comment in a Diary Note, made after a visit on 28 September 1965 that, “In the past few years Tairua Forest has had a face lift. The results of the application of phosphate to partially failed radiata stands, …..It is now well on the way to being a good and productive forest….”


As the forest was relatively isolated, accommodation for staff always had a high priority, and this was particularly so immediately after the Second World War when most forests saw an influx of staff required to catch up on silvicultural work neglected during the depression and war3. Because of its isolated location, core staff at the forest tended to be relatively stable at this time. Salaried staff rose from 2 in 1931 to 5 (including 1 Trainee) in 1948, increasing again to 9 (including 4 Trainees and Woodsmen) in 1958. (Appendix 1) Similarly wages staff rose from 11 in 1931 to a peak of 48 in 1948 before falling back to about 30 in the late 1950’s. When harvesting began on a larger scale in 1973 most of it was done by Forest Service staff, requiring an increase to 12 salaried and 44 wages staff.

Training of forestry cadets (Trainees) seems to have been important at Tairua and in the 1950’s there were 3 or 4 there each year. (App 1) They undertook a wide variety of tasks which covered most of the work they would later be involved with. (Appendix 2)

It is not certain when the camp for workers was established at the nursery as no reference to this could be found in early reports. However it probably replaced the old relief workers camp and operated from the mid 1930’s until about 1955, when it was decided to use local married labour and not build a new camp. In 1956, when Ian Barton was living in the old Nurseryman’s house, the camp had been demolished.

By 1935 there were three staff houses on the forest, one at the nursery and two at the Forest HQ. This was to be the situation until about 1957 when accommodation was built for single officers at the HQ.

In 1972 annual report for Tairua Forest it was noted that Mr Edward (Lemon or Pop) September, who was senior Leading Hand when Ian Barton was at Tairua in 1956, was presented with a long service badge by Bill McKibbin, who had been 2 I/C during the 1930’s when Mr September started working at the forest.


Work to collect data required for the Tairua Forest Working Plan must have begun during the 1950’s, because my work record in 1956 has one day down to ‘working plans’. However not until the mid 1960’s, when the time for major harvesting was close, did inventory work really get underway and the first draft of the working plan appeared. On 15 May 1967 in his comments on the draft plan, Forester J Wendelken wrote, 'this Working Plan will provide the basis for calculating and arranging an important long term sale.' A month later, in a note on which stands should be pruned, Forester I Black stated that the decision should be based on soil type and that the best returns might be expected on a 35 year rotation allowing an annual cut of 100 acres from the 3500 acres of Class 1 soils. In a diary note following his visit to Tairua in July 1967, Wendelken noted that Tairua has been an expensive forest with the 14,170 acres planted having a book value of just over $2 million ($350 per hectare). At this stage Wendelken felt there was a reliable estimate of the growing stock, a conservative estimate of stand increment and a reasonable idea of species and log sizes for 22 years from 1970. He also made the point that increased use of fertilizer would be required and that the Working Plan for Tairua Forest was scheduled to come into effect before 31 March 1968. A letter from the Minister of Forests, Duncan MacIntyre to the local MP L Schultz in November 1969 stated that Tairua Forest was in the process of having its stands of unthrifty species converted to P radiata and that it was anticipated that wood from there and nearby Whangapoua Forest would mainly be earmarked for the growing requirements of industrial plants adjacent to Auckland.


In November 1971, a brief article in the Hauraki Plains Gazette reported that the Minister of Forests, Duncan MacIntyre,had stated that proposals for the sale of timber from Tairua Forest would be called for in 1972 and that harvesting was expected to begin in 1974. Because the forest contained considerable areas of inferior trees a chip mill was also being considered.

There had been minor sales of wood from the forest from the mid 1960’s –usually less than 5000m3 annually. However, following the 1971 announcement annual output for the year to 31 March began to rise and by 1975 was 28,000 m3 reaching about 70,000 m3 by the late 1970’s. Later figures for the forest have not been found but it is interesting to note that the yields per hectare during the early years (1968 – 1978) varied from just over 300 m3 to 730 m3; this reflecting that the lower figures probably contained considerable volumes of thinnings.

Most of the sales were made to established local firms; Carter Holt Harvey Ltd at Kopu, Hicksons Timber Treatment, Henderson and Pollard, Tanners Sawmill, and Fletcher Forests. But some were either close to the forest- Tairua Forest Pine Processors; or much further away –South Pine (Nelson) Ltd.

Activities, which had hardly been visible in the forest in earlier years, and involving uses other than timber production, now began to emerge. The most prominent of these was recreation. As early as 1964 the people of Tairua Township decided they needed a golf course and an approach was made to the Forest Service to see if they would be prepared to lease an area of land, beside the Tairua River and just south of the town, for this purpose. The course was set up in 1965 but 5 years later was relocated to within Tairua Township.

In 1969 a proposal was made to set aside an area of the forest at the south end of the Whangamata Peninsula as a recreation area. In co-operation with interested Whangamata people, the project was set up as a Forest Recreation area. By 1974 a brochure had been prepared complete with a map showing other places of interest in the forest including several old Pa sites and goldmines. The brochure also contained a short history of the forest and current management practices. The area is still in use in 2016.

POST SCRIPT 1987 – 2016

Apart from driving the road between Hikuai and Waihi a couple of times in the 1980s / 90s, I did not go back to Tairua Forest until a couple of days in April 2016. This was somewhat akin to time-travel because changes since 1957 have been immense. There is absolutely no sign of the Wharekawa Nursery and the house I lived in for a year. Of the Forest Headquarters, only the Officer in Charge’s house, where in 1957 Bernie Guthrie and his family lived, remains – now privately owned. Some of the old workshop buildings, now in privete use, still remain; although I have a suspicion these were built after I left as replacements for earlier ones. Behind where the office stood in 1957 are some immensely large trees – mainly redwood which were small when I was there.

Forest Office, Tairua.

Tairua Forest HQ: Redwoods behind (north of) the office site.

More of these quite large trees were found near the main road just north of the Opoutere and beside the old Wharekawa nursery site.

Although a wide variety of species were planted during its early days, most of the forest is now Pinus radiata - the species that 70 years ago McKinnon saw no future for at Tairua. However the legacy of the many species planted in these early years remains because several, especially some of the Southern Pines of USA are regenerating in roadside areas.

In September 1985, the NZ Forest Service was abolished and the many state exotic forests around the country were sold off to private owners. The process was not without its difficulties, especially as much of the land on which the forests grew became subject to claims from iwi who had previously owned the land. Eventually these issues are being resolved, and the cutting rights for exotic forests growing on the land area of Tairua State Forest were sold to Carter Holt Harvey (CHH).

Since 1989, when CHH took over management of the forest, the emphasis has been on harvesting and replanting Pinus radiata. In 2005 they transferred the cutting rights to Rayonier’s Matariki Forests, who still hold them today. The work on the forest is managed by a Forester based in Tauranga, all work done by contract gangs and fire control is in the hands of the local Thames-Coromandel Council. Fertilizer has not been applied for some years and in a few places phosphate deficiency shows in trees with thin, unthrifty tops. Apart from a few trees along the edges of main roads no pruning is done but the relatively small branch size, the result of moderate phosphate deficiency, means log quality is high and there is a good market for timber from Tairua Forest. Recreational activity continues in the forest, usually managed by the various groups involved, and the Department of Conservation maintain some tracks and the Luck at Last mine site.


  1. Tairua forest probably had a lookout as early as the summer of 1934-35 as a diary note by AR Entrican comments on the building of a road to the lookout and the erection of a 14’ x 14’ lookout building.
  2. A report by H G Carter 21/2/50 states there was no electricity, at least at the head of Whangamata harbour until about 1952. There was none at the old nursery house where Ian Barton lived in 1956.
  3. The number of Forest service staff in New Zealand increased from 70 in 1935 to 1600 in 1961. Throughout the depression and war years, growth in staff numbers increased at quite a slow rate, by about 17 people each year. The cessation of the 2nd world war, with the return to the civilian workforce of many returned soldiers, saw the rate of increase rise to almost 100 new staff annually.

Appendix 1: Staff of Tairua Forest 1929 -1986
Appendix 2: Work of a First Year Trainee


  • Barton I, 2015 Memories of life as a technical trainee at Tairua Forest in 1956. The Treasury Journal Volume 8 2015
  • Bennett F, 1986 Tairua: A history of the Tairua-Hikuai-Pauanui District. Pauanui Info Bureau.
  • Buckley, Barry John. A Technical Trainee in the NZ Forest Service, Tairua 1952. The Treasury Journal Volume 9 2016.
  • Downey J F, 1935 Goldmines of the Hauraki District.
  • Gwilliam B, 1964 "Luck at Last", Whangamata. Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 1 1964.
  • Halkett J & Sale E V, 1986. The world of the Kauri. Reed Methuen.
  • Lewis nee Manley, Kae, 2015 Pat Manley: A Technical Trainee At The Tairua Forestry HQ 1944-1945. True Tales of the Coromandel’s Eastern Seaboard. Published by The Treasury.
  • Maxwell E, 1930 Afforestation in Southern Lands. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Auckland.
  • Matthews H J, 1905 Tree culture in New Zealand. Government Printer, Wellington.
  • Reed A H, 1953 The story of the Kauri A H & A W Reed, Wellington.
  • Schofield J C, 1967 Geological map of New Zealand: Sheet 3, Auckland. Govt Printer, Wellington.
  • Simpson T E, 1973. Kauri to Radiata. Hodder & Stoughton. Auckland.
  • Royal Commission on Forestry 1913 Report with minutes and evidence. App to Journal of House of Representatives. C -12.
  • Roche M, 1990 History of New Zealand Forestry. NZ Forestry Corp & GP Books.
  • Weston G C, 1957 Exotic Forest trees in New Zealand. NZ Forest Service, Wellington. Bull 13.

Newspapers & Govt publications

  • Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives; 1899 -904; 1904 –C1; 1910, 1911; 1913 –C12; 1928 –p 6; 1931 C3, p4 & 13; 1946; 1967 – 1985 –C3
  • Auckland Star 10/6/1933, 19/9/1935.
  • New Zealand Herald 15/7/1929, 15/11/1929, 12/3/1930, 4/9/1930 and 12/11/1937.
  • Thames Star 23/4/1875, 27/7/1955.
  • The Press 28/5/1932.

Archives New Zealand material:

[AA is Auckland Archives and WA is Wellington Archives]
Item ID: Agency: Series: Box/Item: Period: Subject

  • AA R373977 BCBE 1124 41/f 1921-87 Tairua Forest Leaflet.
  • AA R730181 BCBC 1401 95/e 1953-72 Exotic Forest Tairua.
  • AA R24637758 BBED 1402 287/c 1936-43 Tairua Forest & Wharekawa Nursery Monthly reports.
  • AA R24741213 BBEE 25495 16/b 1949-76 Kauri trial. Sample plot no A 440 compartment 126 Tairua State Forest.
  • AA R4739541 BBAX 1124 113/a 1958-65 Aerial Topdressing Tairua State Forest.
  • AA R4740086 BBAX 1124 370/d 1946-50 Period Reports Tairua Forest.
  • AA R4740088 BBAX 1124 438/a 1955-63 Monthly Reports Tairua Forest.
  • AA R4740145 BBAX 1124 441/e 1963-69 Annual Report Tairua Forest.
  • AA R4740252 BBAX 1124 70/c 1946 Tairua/Whangamata fire district.
  • WA R2299697 AADY 828 14/ 1951-59 Tairua SF 150 years wrong as photo was from early 1930’s.
  • WA R16131792 AANS 828 640/ 1966-70 Forest Areas - Tairua Survey Districts State Forest 150.
  • WA R24342994 AANS 828 462/ 1932-86 Forest Operations and Management -Tairua Forest 150.
  • WA R20123387 AAQB 889 352/ 1930-66 State Forest Service: Rangers' Cottage, Tairua.
  • WA R22252146 ABLS 6820 5/ 1956-58 Soil Bureau, Special Soil Survey, Tairua Forest.
  • WA R3948284 ABWN 6095 295/ 1929-31 Purchase of Sect 8, Blk VIII for Nursery.
  • WA R17273939 ADSQ 17639 217/ 1940-51 Tairua State Forest 150.
  • WA R17273941 ADSQ 17639 217/ 1927 -31 Tairua SF 150.
  • WA R17278278 ADSQ 17639 619/ 1948-57 Tairua State Forest 150.
  • WA R20062626 ADSQ 17639 210/ 1958-64 Silvicultural Management, Period reports.
  • WA R20062627 ADSQ 17639 210/ 1929-50 State Forests - Auckland Conservancy: Forest Management, Silvicultural Management, Period Reports.
  • WA R20062819 ADSQ 17639 216/ 1929-47 Forest Inventory.

Appendix of Species

    Botanical Name: Common Name
  • Agathis australis: Kauri
  • Araucaria cunninghamii: Hoop pine
  • Cryptomeria japonica: Japanese cedar
  • Cupressus luusitanica: Mexican Cypress
  • Larix decidua: European larch
  • Phyllocladus trichomanoides: Tanekaha
  • Pinus canariensis: Canary Island pine
  • P. caribaea: Caribbean pine
  • P. elliottii: Slash pine
  • P. lambertiana: Sugar pine
  • P. laricio: Corsican pine
  • P. nigra : Austrian pine
  • P. palustris: Longleaf pine
  • P. patula : Mexican pine
  • P. peuce : Macedonian pine
  • P. pinnaster : Maritime pine
  • P. ponderosa var scopulorum: Western yellow pine
  • P radiata (Pinus insignis): Monterey pine
  • P. strobus: Eastern white pine
  • P. taeda: Loblolly pine
  • Sequoia sempervirens: Coastal redwood
  • Thuja plicata : Western red Cedar


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