kauri treeby Bob Harvey

Kauri survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and the sinking of a continent, yet today stand on the brink of annihilation. Why has the official response to dieback disease been so weak and disorganised?

It’s a cold, crisp July morning in the Karekare Valley. I’ve been walking an hour in icy streams before I leave the track and head up through the dense bush. I’m on a mission to get to a stand of kauri that I’ve been watching for the last 20 years. They are giants. Healthy and strong and perhaps 1000 years old. Thousands like them once stood throughout the Waitākere Ranges, but these are the lucky ones. The cliffs saved them from the axes and saws of the Karekare millers and they have — so far — survived the dreaded kauri dieback.

It’s a new death sentence on these glorious sky-reaching treasures of the New Zealand northern bush. Kauri dieback is sweeping through the northern forests and into the Waitākere Ranges and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. It’s as great a menace as the ruthless millers were in the last 200 years, but unlike them, it cannot be stopped. At least, not with our current knowledge.

Where greed drove the saw blades, now a water mould is devouring the kauri that remain. It has only recently been given a name: Phytophthora agathidicida. The last word translates as “kauri killer”.

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