The Kauri Museum is a highlight of any trip up through the Kauri Coast in Northland. It is well-signposted at the turn off to Matakohe from State Highway 12, with parking and access on Church Road. The museum is also across the road from a historic church and post office, plus one of the few cafes on the route.
For European settlers, the kauri forests were a major resource. The ancient forests covered most of what is now farmland from north Waikato and the Coromandel to the Far North of Te Tai Tokerau. The lumber was used to build much of early Auckland, Royal Navy ship masts, and a vast array of consumer products. Kauri gum was also valuable for high quality varnish and widely exported. As the trees disappeared, this led to extensive diggings for buried gum troves.
The Kauri Museum does a superb job of telling this story, including a life-size exhibition showing the blow-by-blow process of turning a tree into lumber. There are also extensive collections of artefacts and photos of the various aspects of the kauri industry. The dioramas include incredibly detailed scenes of settler home and business life, arguably the best examples in any NZ museum.
Inevitably, the museum also depicts the massive loss of kauri forest. Today, these ancient trees that were largely unique to the northern part of the North Island occupy about 4% of the land they occupied around 1840. Consider also that the biggest trees today – Tāne Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere – in Waipoua Forest are not the biggest recorded. There were several significantly larger trees that have fallen due to natural events over the last 200 years. The museum has a stunning graphic comparing the trunk dimensions of today’s giants to those of the past.