Written by Andrea Ewing
Photography by Michelle Hyslop
In December 2017 Te Kawerau ā Maki placed a rāhui on the Waitākere Ranges. In this case, the rāhui is a temporary closure of an area (the Waitākere Ranges) as a conservation measure (the protection of kauri).
The focus of the rāhui is protection rather than prohibition. The protection of kauri results in the health of the entire forest. Although there was pushback, the scientists working with the iwi were clear that the infection was spreading along tracks from humans. The iwi decided it couldn’t wait for Council to act; “one vector of kauri dieback we can control is people. So let’s keep them out.”
When she explains how sick the trees are, Robin suddenly tears up; it takes her a few moments to recover her usual composure. The sense of worry and grief she feels about the potential loss of kauri trees is palpable. She explains the forest is a “really spiritual place” and the rāhui is about protection of a taonga (treasure): “it would be terrible if the only way our grandchildren could see these beautiful trees was in a book."
Charlotte is Pare Waikato, Pare Hauraki and has often referenced kauri dieback in her artwork in the last six years, a rāhui was put in place on the Waitākere Ranges by one of Charlotte’s uncles. The prohibition on entering the forest finds expression in another of her works, visible behind her on the wall and bearing a central yellow cross.
Charlotte’s other kauri-inspired works range from a waka made from protest pickets, to a kohanga (nest) of kauri kakano (seeds), hexagonally shaped to evoke a paimarie (protective karakia, or prayer). More recently, she installed raindrops at Britomart – 300 metres long and spanning nine blocks. The drops represent a blessing of water, and invite passers-by to connect to their kaupapa (story) and heal.
The kauri seedling Chantal is holding was killed by Phythophthora agathidicida, a micro-organism causing kauri dieback. Chantal is a research technician at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research. Landcare receives kauri seedlings from Scion and inoculates them with phytophthora. If the seedling dies, its roots are tested to confirm that the phytopthora infection caused its death.
Landcare’s five-year experiment is aimed at establishing whether particular families of kauri can live longer once infected with dieback, or even survive the disease.
Rhys Jones, a Welsh springer spaniel, has an incredible sense of smell. He is one of Auckland Council’s biosecurity dogs, managed by Brian Shields (pictured). Rhys was the first dog in the world trained to detect Argentine ants; he can locate the scent of just one ant. Together with DOC, the Council is now exploring whether Rhys can be trained to detect the pathogen that causes kauri dieback – for example, on tracks or dirty boots. So far, Rhys has a success rate close to 100%. When he’s working, Rhys wears rubber boots that can be washed, as Trigene disinfectant can’t be used on dogs’ paws.
Stuart has a strong connection with this place – he has spent most of his life in the Waitakere Ranges, growing up at nearby Bethells Beach. He sees kauri as one of our most iconic trees; “The fact they're under threat is really scary, and we want to do everything we can to make sure we don't lose them".
He is working in partnership with Te Kawerau a Maki to redevelop a track system that supports and enhances forest health allowing people to experience this beautiful place in a safe way.
Ian has been working on kauri dieback “since before we knew what it was”. In 2011, Ian began testing whether phosphite, a chemical used in horticulture, could help kauri seedlings survive dieback infection. The results of those tests were encouraging. Now Ian’s treating full-grown kauri in the forest, as part of his work at Plant and Food Research.
First he measures the tree’s girth (important to calculate the dose) and checks for lesions around its base, canopy health, and moss accumulation on the trunk (a bad sign, as it indicates bark isn’t growing). Finally, he drills into the trunk at regular intervals and then inserts syringes filled with phosphite.
Ian says it’s an emotional experience: “The first time I had to inject a kauri tree, I paused for a very long time before I actually pushed the drill into it, because it just felt wrong... just because of the reverence we feel for kauri”. But the drilling doesn’t ‘hurt’ the tree – kauri resin quickly plugs the holes.
He describes the treatment as being like ‘chemotherapy for plants’ – injecting a chemical in order to to kill something that’s harming the tree. “Even better it stimulates the tree to mobilise its own defences and repel the pathogen”.
Tohe Ashby teaches rongoa Maori (traditional Maori medicine) at the Motatau marae. He learnt his craft from his grandparents, who he grew up helping. He explains the remedies for sick trees: pouring an infusion of kawakawa, tea tree (manuka), or red matipo around the sick tree’s roots. Tohe has sent plant samples to Lincoln University to test how they react to the phytophthora. There have been positive results from this, which are being further researched.
When Tohe takes a plant, he first asks permission from the forest to take the plant, before he even enters. He then explains to the plant what he’s taking, and why. Any remnants can’t be thrown out; they must be returned to the forest, not just thrown away.
He says it’s healing for us just to walk in the ngahere, or forest; he loves to bring children here when they’re young, so they can learn to hear it speak to them.
Dave grew up in Waipoua forest, one of twelve kids in a two-room house. Like most of their neighbours, they lived off kai moana and gathering seaweed to sell. “It was a hard life but a good life.”
At fifteen, Davey started working in forestry with his father. His father climbed kauri trees to collect their gum. Davey specialised in seed collection; he could gather 8-10 pounds in a season.
Davey’s tree-climbing boots look a bit like crampons – the front spikes stick horizontally into the trunk, and he would hold a set of sharp hooks in his hand and alternate moving his hands and feet. At the crown of the tree, he would attach a 200-metre-long rope fitted with a seat, which enabled him to swing out to the ends of branches to access the kauri seed cones.
He spent 30 years in forestry, and says back then, kauri forestry was “hard physical work” – the trees represented money to be made, not something that needed protection.
Dave’s home is full of his carvings and artwork, including a collection of kauri gum. They are photographed sitting in the home that he and his wife June raised six of her younger siblings, five of their own children and 47 foster children.
Michelle Hyslop, photographer
For Auckland-based photographer Michelle Hyslop, the Waitakere Ranges are her place to connect with nature. Their closure, due to the spread of kauri dieback, inspired her to research the disease, through which she came to realise not only how many kauri had been affected, but the impact it was having on people’s lives.
“I started by photographing and interviewing people I knew, but the project gained a life of its own as word spread and I was introduced to more and more people who were affected by the disease, and was captured by their amazing stories. Over eight months I photographed people from Motatau and Waipoua Forest in the Far North to Rotorua, meeting local iwi, scientists, and members of the public who had a kauri story to tell.” Michelle received a $10,000 Pro Grant from Canon, which provided her with the funding and equipment she needed to get this project up and running as well as printing the photos for her exhibition.