The History And Uses Of Kauri Trees

Kauri crafts from New Zealand reflect the diversity and warmth of the New Zealand lifestyle.

Kauri trees come from the Agathis Australis family and have cousins in the Australian Karri and the Fijian Kauri. The New Zealand trees are the giants of the family and are second only in size (in the world) to the Redwoods. They were once found in areas over ¾ of New Zealand but are now confined to forests in the upper regions of the North Island. The trees were milled extensively, as they are famous for their long straight lengths of timber. It has the highest volume of timber of any known tree in the world. Over a period of years, firstly for shipping, and then for housing, the tree was nearing extinction. It is now protected and cannot be milled for any reason. However, because of its beautiful sheen, which some say changes color in various lights, and the beautiful grain from the head and the stump of the tree, it is prized for the making of furniture and crafts.

The volume of milled kauri has become harder to find, so craftsmen are turning to the supply of swamp kauri for their treasures. Swamp Kauri is found where the mighty forests once stood - felled by natural cataclysmic events from long ago. The leaves of the Kauri take a long time to decompose and form a barrier around the timber after a tree has fallen. The weight of the tree causes it to sink over a period of time, buried for thousands of years, until it emerges as a considerably hardened wood. While only some of it is comparable to the new timber, swamp kauri is highly valued for its richness of color, enhanced by natural chemicals during its stint underground, bringing an added dimension to the already beautiful grain.

The Matakohe Museum (about an hours drive north from Auckland city) has a collection of the most historical aspects of the Kauri including milling and the uses for Kauri gum. It also hosts a lovely souvenir shop where you can purchase your own little piece of kauri. The smaller pieces have been crafted into earrings and necklaces, bowls and clocks. But if you are looking for something a little different, like furniture, it would pay to visit the Kauri center in a tiny place called Awanui. Here expert craftsmen have put together a small but very solid range of furniture, all individually hand-crafted and unique in every way. While I was there recently they had for sale a solid kauri sofa (sold at $NZ25,000). It was a beautiful piece and remarkably comfortable considering it had no cushions. They also featured a very unique dining suite fashioned to represent a Nikau palm. It had a central leg for the table carved to represent the nikau trunk and a beautiful center piece on the table top resembled a nikau in bloom. It came with 6 matching chairs with a chevron pattern to represent the nikau palm leaves. It is guaranteed a one of a kind but you could need a very big dining room to put it in.

If you are more interested in conversation pieces or works of art there is a place in Te Aroha called Arboreal, that specialize in extremely intricate carved pieces. They only produce about three items a year (their current project taking 420 hours to complete) and guarantee that all pieces come from a completely solid block of wood.

Wayne Ross is well known in both New Zealand and overseas for his work with Kauri. He was recently commissioned to produce the Kauri stand for the America's Cup replica (in greenstone). He has also produced some outstanding works of art which can be viewed at many places around New Zealand. Another unique claim to fame for Wayne, is as the man to create the largest Kauri bowl in New Zealand.

The New Zealand kauri is a warm and wonderful wood. As I rub the Kauri pendant I wear constantly, the grain and the gum resin shimmers in the light, so unusual for a piece of wood. Kauri gleams in an array of hues from rich dark brown to green, and has been crafted in some wonderful forms. Whether it is something you want to wear, sit on, or simply admire in your home, a piece of New Zealand worth having is a piece of Kauri.

© High Speed Ventures 2011