Before we get onto the main course of the Kauri Tree, a little entree of something else.
I am sure you have been waiting for a detailed explanation of how we manage toileting etc in our state of the art camper van – your patience is about to be rewarded.
Avid blog readers will remember that when we were in Australia and away from campsites, our toilet was a shovel, our running water was a 25 litre jerry can with a tap, and our shower was a black bag with a hose at the bottom which you hung in a tree until it got hot, then you stood under it and turned the hose on.
We have gone up-market this year and our van has a shower room (which trebles up as the toilet and drying room), an electric / diesel water heater and a sink (with mixer tap) with hot and cold running water.
All of the above requires maintenance and because we had no idea what was involved before we took delivery of the van, there follows a detailed set of instructions for campervan virgins!
New Zealand has very strict laws protecting its environment and campers are not allowed to dump their waste just anywhere. Most camp sites have “dump points” and if you are not staying at a camp site (i.e. wild camping) then there are official public dump points you must use.
Our van has three tanks: fresh water (used for cooking, washing, showers and flushing); grey water (used washing and shower water); and black water (output of toilet).
Replenishing your fresh water is easy, you simply connect a hose to a nearby fresh water tap. put the other end into the water tank filler
(ie not the diesel tank filler), turn on and wait until it overflows. The tank holds 91 litres of fresh water which is about enough for three days if you use it sparingly.
Fresh water use of course creates grey water. This goes into the grey water tank (which will also hold 91 litres). You empty this by finding a dump station, connecting a largish
hose to the underneath of the van (putting the other end in
the dump sump), turn the valve on and wait for the tank to empty itself.
Fresh water of course creates other water which lands up in the toilet along with other waste products! All of these get flushed down into a Black Water cassette (stored
under the toilet) which has to be emptied by tipping its contents into a black water dump station. The cassette is
then flushed with fresh water, you add some magic blue liquid (presumably some sort of disinfectant and nicer smelling than its contents), reinsert the cassette into the van and you are then free to personally discharge again! The whole process takes about 30 minutes and needs to be done every couple of days or so (depending upon your production rate of course). It is not the most pleasant of tasks but you just have to get on and do it.
When we are at a camp site we tend to use their facilities during the day and ours at night. Using facilities only a metre away is far nicer than finding your coat, torch and shoes then trudging off into the night!
The Kauri Tree is a most magnificent tree, the second largest in the world after the Californian Sequoia. Its key characteristics are that it grows straight, it is self pruning (which means that the timber within the trunk is without knots), it is the lightest of the hardwoods, and it is ideally suited for ship spars and ship construction as well as virtually anything else you want to make out of wood.
It did not take the early settlers long to realise this and they then set about denuding New Zealand of its enormous forests of this tree. So good were they at their task, that by the 1900s there were very few left and in 1952 the Government was forced by public opinion to protect all remaining trees. So now by law, you cannot chop down a Kauri Tree unless it is dead or dying or is required to make a ceremonial canoe.
One of the Kauri preserves is on the west coast of the North Island. So important are the trees that the road carved through this area narrows to go between
trees in its path or curves to go around them rather than the simpler solution of cutting down any trees in the way. The road is also part built on stilts so that tree roots can grow underneath it without damage. The resultant road is one of the most curvy roads you are likely to encounter anywhere in the world.
On either side of the forest road is a forest jungle, seemingly quite impenetrable. However along the road are a number of stopping places so that you can view important trees. Two of these trees which can been seen by walking down long boardwalks into the forest are:
The two trees above are not the largest Kauri trees which have existed. Te Matua Ngahere at 16.41 metres is only the the second smallest ring on the tree chart below. The outer ring represents the diameter of the largest Kauri tree known to have existed – The Ghost Kauri Tree which died
in the 1870s. It had a circumference of 26.83 metres i.e a diameter of 8.54 metres (28 feet).
There is a whole museum at Matakoha (near our destination tonight) which is devoted to the Kauri Tree – such a museum might not sound very interesting but it does in fact provide a fascinating couple of hours education.
It contains not only working exhibits related to the chopping down of Kauri Trees and the processing of its wood
here a saw bench
but also examples and cuts of Kauri Wood such as the above central plank taken from a Kauri Tree which died in the 1990s and therefore was felled.
Kauri Trees exude a gum (called Kauri Gum) which was and still is much prized for numerous uses including varnishing. This gum came out of the tree wherever there was a wound and eventually lumps of it fell off to the ground. The above (slightly out of focus) picture shows a beetle inside a piece of Kauri Gum.
There is also a full sized boarding house inside the museum showing how commercial travellers (bankers, dentists, gum buyers, wood buyers etc) lived in the wood fields during the 1900s.
A travelling banker examining a note
It is slightly painful reading about and seeing the enthusiasm with which the early settlers set about destroying forests of this magnificent tree. One has to admire their ingenuity and hardiness however and also be grateful that the remaining trees are protected.