COROMANDEL FOREST PARK

Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 22, June 1978

by DOUG JOHANSEN of Pauanui.

DESCRIPTION OF PARK AREA.

The Coromandel Ranges are on a peninsula of land, the Pacific Ocean on the east and the Hauraki Gulf and Firth of Thames on the West. These ranges were created by volcanic activity millions of years ago, and have since been reshaped by the forces of nature to what they are today. The dominant features are the unique rock formation and very steepsided valleys and mountains, which range from sea level to nearly 3,000 feet.

INDIGENOUS FOREST

With a high rainfall and mild winters, the Coromandel Peninsula is an ideal region for a luxuriant forest growth and no area of comparable size in New Zealand has such a rich forest flora. Very few indigenous trees do not occur here, the undergrowth is usually very dense but its composition changes markedly over short distances.

The virgin forests of the area consist of podocarps and hardwoods such as: Kauri, Rimu, Totara, Rata, Miro, Matai, Tawa, Tanekaha, and Kahikatea with the forest understorey containing Kohekohe, Towai, Hinau, Rewarewa, Mangeao and Pukatea. Also to be found in the area are Puriri, Taraire, Maire, the rare Kawaka, Hard Beach, Yellow silver pine, Bog Pine, Southern Rata and the very rare Manoao and Silver Pine. The main pockets of big Kauri occur on very steep faces or on high bleak table-lands, but there is a tremendous regeneration of Kauri right throughout the whole area.

There is a large variety of ferns to be found in the area, ranging from tiny maiden hair fern to large groves of pongas some over 50 feet in height. Also to be found in isolated valleys are the very rare King ferns, some up to 12 feet in height, (there are also many Orchids to be found in the park).

FORESTS IN THE AREA

There are five forests making up this area.

No.1. The Moehau Forest located 3 miles S.E. of Cape Colville.

No.2. The Waikawau Forest located north of the Tapu-Coroglen Road.

No.3. The Hikuai Forest located between the Tairua harbour and Kauaeranga Forest.

No.4. The Kauaeranga Forest located between Thames, The Tapu-Coromandel Road and the Hikuai Forest.

No.5. The Maratoto Forest located between the Tairua Forest and Waihi.

BIRD LIFE

The birdlife is prolific in this area with most native species being found, such as Fantails, Waxeyes, Grey-Warblers, Shining and Longtail Cuckoo, Bellbirds, Tuis, Kiwis, Moreporks, Native Pigeons, Native Parakeets, Kakas, as well as the recently discovered very rare Kokakos and Laughing Owls.

ANIMAL LIFE

Animals found in this area are pigs and goats which provide sport for hunters. Of particular interest is the occurrence of the Native Frog. This species of Frog shows some of the most primitive skeletal and anatomical features of any known frog or toad. These frogs do not go through the tadpole stage but hatch out of their eggs as well developed froglets with tails. These rare frogs are only 1⅜" long and are unique in that they are protected by law.

INTERESTING SPECIAL AREAS

THE MOEHAU RANGE in the far north of the peninsula rises to 2,926 feet the highest point in the Coromandel Ranges. The view is magnificent, extending from Whangarei Heads to the Bay of Plenty. Dense carpets of moss cover most of the top and here occur many rare plants, also rock outcrop plants not normally found north of the Ruahine Ranges. There is also regenerating Kauri making it the highest altitude at which Kauri grows in New Zealand.

THE MANAIA FOREST is a dense stand of large Kauris including Kauri No 265 the fourth largest in New Zealand. This is a magnificent area of mature Kauri forest and regenerating forest.

THE MILL CREEK AREA also some large Kauris and tremendous rock outcrops. One area in particular is a collapsed volcano. A visiting overseas wildlife expert remarked that it should be the eighth Wonder of the World. It is also the area where the very rare Laughing Owl was recently discovered.

THE CAMELS BACK (2,688’) Impressive rock outcrop, with some rugged country to the north, south and east. This area was where the rare Kokako was recently found.

THE KAPOWAI RIVER runs through steepsided valleys, with some spectacular gorges and waterfalls.

THE PINNACLES (2,605’) is a magnificent outcrop of rocks surrounded by other outcrops such as: Ben Bolt, The Tooth and the Thumb to name a few, all in the middle of some interesting country.

THE SECOND BRANCH OF THE TAIRUA RIVER flows through a steepsided valley like a small Grand Canyon with rock walls rising from the valley floor for hundreds of feet, with large Kauris growing all over the valley sides.

TABLE MOUNTAIN (2,745’) is a flat topped mountain with extremely steep sides. There is a very impressive backdrop to the Kauaeranga Valley.

THE KAUAERANGA VALLEY runs North-East behind Thames with some beautiful creeks running into it and many unusual rock formations and cliff faces within it. The valley also contains a tremendous lot of regenerating Kauri and lovely stands of indigenous forest. The Park Headquarters for this valley are here, as well as many interesting walking tracks.

KAITARAKIHI (2,740’) MOTUTAPERE (2,685’) and HIHI (2,352’) These peaks are the central part of the range, being flanked by steep country on the East dropping into the Tairua River. Those steep sides have some beautiful stands of indigenous forest with some good stands of Kauri, as well as a heavy Kauri regeneration. On the western flank of these peaks the country is more gentle, dropping through dense indigenous forest down into the Kauaeranga river.

THE FIFTH BRANCH OF THE TAIRUA RIVER runs through bush covered country with lovely waterfalls and rapids on the creek itself.

THE UPPER TAIRUA RIVER runs from the rugged part of the range separating the Maratoto and Wentworth valleys through bush covered country over many rapids and through very impressive gorges on its journey to the sea.

GENERAL HISTORY OF THE AREA

The Coromandel Peninsula has a colourful history of gumdigging, logging and gold mining starting in the early 1800’s. When the Europeans first arrived, the peninsula was covered with a dense Kauri forest and Kauri spars were New Zealand’s first export, many from this part of the country. From 1840 to 1940 over 1,000 million super feet of Kauri was felled. It was extracted mainly by using Kauri Dams. The remains of these dams can be found on most creeks, mainly in poor repair, but one such dam found recently on the side of Hihi Mountain is virtually complete and is reputed to be the best in New Zealand. The old Kauri roads and hauler tracks can still be found in this area. There was approximately 500 million super feet of timber taken out of the Whitianga district, 400 million super feet removed from Tairua river catchment area and 120 million super feet taken from the Kauaeranga Valley.

The gumdiggers extracted hundreds of tons of gum from the Coromandel Ranges especially on the eastern side of the ranges where the gum was of highest quality. A lot of standing forest was destroyed by burning before digging for the gum. Kauris still standing, show marks of gum seekers who climbed the trees using spiked boots and hand spikes to get the gum in the forks of the branches.

Gold was first found in the 1840’s on the Coromandel Peninsula and mining was carried on up until the 1930’s. Some of the mines which can be visited in the Parks area are: Tairua Broken Hills, Neavesville, Golden Belt, Golden Hills, Kepowai [Kapowai? – E], and Welcome Jack. There are numerous other small claims also within the Park. The largest mine on the Eastern side of the ranges was Tairua Broken Hills, which started in 1894 and was worked until 1924 with gold worth $200,000 being taken out. This mine is very impressive with many drives on 4 levels in the claims area. One of the more accessible drives has large rooms inside the mountain and one shaft which drops 300 feet to the lower level.

The Golden Hills mines are also impressive with a drive going 100 yards into the mountain then opening out into a 200 feet high stope where the ore was mined. The platforms are still up in the stope which is filled with millions of glow-worms - a very spectacular and moving sight. I have taken over 1,000 people into these mines, around the Kauri Dam and Kauris in the last year. The interest shown by these people was quite astounding, and they all feel this area should be protected. The Inspector of Mines, Mr. Allan Palmer and I spent two days going through the mines in February. He was most impressed and said these mines were some of the most spectacular he had seen and felt they should be preserved. Mr. I. Hopper of Pauanui has many of the records relating to the felling of Kauri in this area, also many maps showing the dam sites, and sites of goldmines and claims.

PROBLEMS IN PROTECTING THE AREA

The Forest Park concept, which controls the area in question, although working well to a degree is not sufficient protection for such an irreplaceable asset.

Large areas on the Eastern side of the ranges containing regenerating Kauri have already been planted in exotics and a bigger block is planned by New Zealand Forest Service. In the North East of the area Fletcher Timber Co. have taken over a large block of land with the intention of planting exotics. They have also just burnt a large area of indigenous forest fronting the Kopu-Hikuai road to the South in preparation for planting exotics. An area of land in the upper Tairua basin is at present under negotiation for purchase to plant pines. This area has large stands of young Kauri as well as mature trees. This is a beautiful part of the range, with a most interesting history. Areas like this one should come into the Park. The uncontrolled spread of weed pines through the Peninsula is a serious problem as they are changing the nature of the forests and are a danger to bird life. These must be eradicated, or at least kept under control. Erosion is another problem which can be controlled by retaining the original forest cover high in the ranges. Most harbours on the East coast have silted up quite badly.

REMEDY

It is suggested that all remaining worthy parts of the Forests on the Peninsula as far South as Waihi should become National Park, and that adjacent areas be clearly defined as to which parts would stay as Forest Parks, State or Private Forests. This area also meets the National Parks Act criteria in that it has:- "Scenery of magnificent quality and natural features that are so unique that their preservation is in the National interests". The time is right now to move on this, because if this generation does not save this unique region for future generations then it will be lost for ever. The retention of this forest so close to a thriving metropolis is also important as an area of recreation. This park, if created, would have something no other National Park has, and that is the Kauri Forests. With good control and management, National Park, Forest Park and Forest Service can grow and develop alongside each other; complementary to one another, yet be separate areas in their own right.

EPILOGUE

It is estimated that when Captain James Cook sailed along the New Zealand coast, approximately 80% of the country was in bush. Settlement ensured despoilation of the virgin forests, the ring of the axe first echoing through the easily accessible coastal slopes and valleys, then heard deeper and deeper in the hinterland as the prime coastal timbers became scarcer. Out from the settlements spread the waves of people. Scrub and bush falling to axe, saw and fire. Back were pushed the walls of forest, dwindling and disappearing as the rich earth was yielded up to the plough and hoe.

By the late 1800’s there came a growing awareness that there could be shortages of indigenous timber. The authorities, concerned with this depletion of forest, took immediate steps to preserve large tracts as reserves. Over the last 80 years these reserves of indigenous forests have been felled at an alarming and increasing rate. It is generally realised by a concerned public that unless some of these areas are put under permanent protection by law, within 50 years there will only be remnants left of what was once a vast and magnificent forest.

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