Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 28, September 1984
By Gary Staples
A walk from the end of Franklin Road, Waitawheta along the old tramway formation leads to the old timber mill and Kauri Dam. The track then continues across the Waitawheta River headwaters to the Wharawhara stream, Katikati. This walking track now maintained by the Forestry Service leads through an area linked with the Kauri timber industry. Commencing from the car park at the end of Franklin Road, the track at first follows along side the Waitawheta River across flat paddocks then along the old tramway formation to the forest boundary. From this point the old rail sleepers can be seen together with the occasional iron rail track.
The tramway, built by the Kauri Timber Co. Ltd [initially built for the use of the Waihi Gold Mining Co – E], was used by them during 1909-1915 to remove 40,000 cubic meters of kauri timber. The tramway ran from Owharoa for 16 km up the Waitawheta Valley to the Waipapa confluence. At least two Kauri Dams were built [or were they built by Joughin? – E] to drive logs down to the booms at the head of the tramway. At this stage horses were used to pull the loaded trams down to the railway line at Owharoa. From here the logs were taken to Paeroa. At Paeroa they were transferred to the Ohinemuri River, made into rafts and towed to Puriri from where they were towed by steam tugs to the company's mills at Great Barrier Island or Auckland. In 1923 the Waitawheta Timber Company extended the tramline a further 1.2 km and established a steam driven sawmill in the headwaters of the Waitawheta. Steam haulers pulled logs to the river which carried them to the booms at the mill. Here they were cut into squares and towed by rail tractor to Owharoa. These operations ceased in 1928.
After an hours walk from the carpark a clearing (now rapidly becoming overgrown) is reached. This is the site of Daley's Hut, built by the Waitawheta camp society. From this hut a side track leads across a ridge to the Mangakino Valley. Across the river is the dominant land mark of Maungawhio-Tapu 366m. Daley's clearing was established by two Dalmation [Dalmatian – E] brothers gumdigging in the area after the Kauri Timber Co. Soon after leaving Daley's clearing the Bluff Track Junction is reached and a little further on the tramway enters an area of high cliffs. At this point the tramway crossed the river four times in a short distance. The large concrete foundations of the bridges remain at each crossing. The cliffs and bluffs in parts rise straight out of the river.
The Waitawheta Valley was formerly (in geological ages past) a basin surrounded by active and inactive volcanos. A sequence of sedimentary rocks accumulated in rivers and basins. A second period of andesite volcanism (approx 2 million years ago) produced the hexagonal jointed lava columns, formed as the lava cooled.
Beyond the four river crossings the valley widens and the tramway continues, crossing the river twice again before reaching the N Z Forest Service Hut at the Waipapa Junction. From here a wide track leads to the T.V. road on Mount Te Aroha whilst the tramway track continues to follow the Waitawheta River. A few minutes after leaving the Hut another river crossing is reached. One large log which originally formed the bridge still remains, spanning a very deep pool. Those with good balance can cross by this means. The tramway then steadily climbs above a narrow gorge until it reaches the mill site. To reach the mill site it is yet again necessary to cross the Waitawheta River. There are a large number of relics to be seen here and nearby is the large saw dust heap, still not yet overgrown. The tramway continues past the mill.
A transmission line to bring electric power from Horahora to the Waikino battery was built in 1913, through the valley. Most pylons were removed for scrap during the second world war.
Remains can be seen high in the headwaters of the Waipapa stream Apart from the relics at the mill site, a number of tramway wheels etc lie beside the track and the remains of bridges crossing side streams can be seen. A series of deep cuttings are also of interest. The kauri dam remains can be seen from a short side track.
The main track continues to follow the tramway crossing the river by means of new footbridges. After leaving the tramway the track climbs very steeply to a ridge known as Cashmores Clearings. The vegetation here is very different from the lower valleys. Soon the track descends to the Wharawhara stream. Logging of Kauri began in the Wharawhara stream in 1902. Bond Bros built a mill near the site of the present Tauranga County Council water treatment plant, at the end of Wharawhara Road. This was the most southerly Kauri mill in New Zealand. A bush tramway was constructed 3km up the Wharawhara stream. Bullocks pulled logs to a tramline on the plateau above the stream. From here the logs were sent down a chute to the Wharawhara stream tramway. This chute was constructed of kauri ricker logs placed to form a slide. Later the mill was transferred to Cashmore Bros. and Judd. Milling ceased in 1909.
KAIMAI KAURI UNIQUE
The virgin kauri stands in the Hot Springs Road area of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park are unique. They are the southernmost significant kauri in the world. "The stands were first recognised for their importance in 1946" says park officer in charge, Alan Jones. "They include trees from the tiniest seedlings up to mature giants many hundreds of years old".
The mature trees are generally shorter in the trunk than Northland or Coromandel kauri. This is because they are growing near their southern limit. The soft growing tips of young trees are also susceptible to damage in our windy climate as they emerge through the forest canopy. However, it is expected that the younger trees (now perhaps only 50 to 100 years old) will grow taller because they have protection from the older trees. Kauri in the park have been monitored by the Forest Research Institute since the 1950's. All the kauri in a given area were tagged and have since been measured periodically. "Results from this monitoring will help us to know more about this remarkable tree, and how it grows", Alan Jones says.
In Katikati State Forest two plots of young trees have been marked out. The trees in the thinned plot have grown twice as fast as those in the untended forest over the last 25 years.