Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 12, October 1969


The Coromandel Peninsula in 1840 was entirely forested. The Maori population, confined mainly to the coastal fringe, had made few inroads and fern and manuka areas resulting from fire did not extend far inland. From early European times sporadic but increasing shipments of kauri spars were obtained from coastal forests. The first sawmill probably operated at Mercury Bay from about 1837, and in the century that followed more than 1,000 million feet of kauri were felled and extracted, mostly by water. With the depletion of kauri supplies more attention was turned to totara, rimu and other species and many of the forest areas have been worked over several times. There is now but a small remnant of the vast timber resource of former times.

In 1930 the Forest Service began planting an exotic forest between Tairua and Whangamata, which has since reached 13,600 acres. Smaller areas begun at Kauaeranga in 1940 and Whangapoua in 1948 together with Athenree Forest begun in 1936 by N.Z.Railways (for production of railway sleepers) bring the present net area of State exotic forest to approx. 18,100 acres. Early planting at Whangamata was of more than 20 different species, (chiefly Pinus) covering all the more important conifers of the Northern Hemisphere which were considered to have any promise.

Many of these failed entirely. Others have maintained a level of growth too slow to be an economic proposition. Still others have shown a high degree of malformation. In all, only four have shown promise as timber producers. These are radiata pine, a native of California, slash and loblolly pines from South East U.S.A. and, on restricted sites, Mexican cypress. More recently two or three species of Eucalyptus have shown encouraging growth. One further species, Pinus pinaster from Southern Europe has shown reasonable health and vigour, but until recently the strains available showed many disadvantages as timber producers.

Tairua State Forest. A very extensive tract of land bounded by the Tairua and Whangamata Harbours, the Tairua River, and the East Coast became the centre of a major afforestation project in the middle 1920's, mainly as an employment relief measure. Subsequent to World War II, a substantial portion was released for farm development, but the exotic forest itself stands at 13,600 acres and contains an appreciable volume of timber. Planting in the late 1920's and 1930's was rapid and much of the forest is already mature and ready for milling. Radiata and Corsican pines dominates the area, the former very successfully but Corsican pine has proved too slow in growth to be of real value. Several other species show much promise. (Milling on a small scale began in 1959 and this is expected to increase significantly since the new Kopu-Hikuai road access opened up markets to the West).

Athenree State Forest. In 1936 the N.Z. Railways began planting a forest on 3,000 acres at Athenree to provide a source of sleepers and general purpose timbers for the future. Emphasis was placed on naturally grown durable species of Eucalyptus but many of these were not successful. Later planting was concentrated on radiata pine, and the forest is a mixture of both. In 1957 the block was taken over by Forest Service and conversion of the failed and unproductive areas was accelerated.

Kauaeranga State Forest. This forest has an approximate area of 33,800 acres and consists mainly of native trees (indigenous) and some 1,000 acres of exotics. Exploitation, much of which was on a fairly selective basis, was carried out over extensive areas prior to the land becoming State forest. These logged-over areas are estimated to total more than half the area of the forest. No complete record of these activities is available unfortunately.

The establishment of exotic species commenced in 1940 with Pinus radiata and in general Kauaeranga Forest is a typical example of a smaller local supply forest, associated with a larger indigenous area.

Whangapoua State Forest. Whangapoua Forest occupies the bulk of the higher country between Coromandel and Mercury Bay. Of the 26,038 acres total, some 16,000 acres are suitable for planting as exotic forest. Initial establishment began with trials in 1948, but from 1961 onwards 500 acres have been established each year. Again the main species is radiata pine, with lesser areas of other pines.