Wake planned after DoC fells 500-year-old tree

By Laura Mills of the Greymouth Star -
The 500-year-old kahikatea tree that was cut down by DoC to make room for an extension to a tramping hut. Photo / Supplied
The 500-year-old kahikatea tree that was cut down by DoC to make room for an extension to a tramping hut. Photo / Supplied

Buller conservationists plan to hold a wake for a 500-year-old kahikatea tree that was felled by the Department of Conservation so it could extend a nearby tramping hut.

DoC is adamant the tree had to go to keep trampers staying at the Mokihinui Forks Hut safe.

However, Westport conservationist Peter Lusk is horrified, and says the tree had stood firm for centuries.

"It was here when Abel Tasman sailed past," Mr Lusk said today.

The hut was extended as DoC starts to open up the Old Ghost Road walking and tramping route, with an expected surge in numbers.

With boughs overhanging the hut, DoC had chopped it down and cut it up into firewood, rather than move the hut, Mr Lusk said.

People familiar with the area were grief-stricken: "It's like you've lost an old friend."

A small group of nine has been organising the April 6-7 wake, and he thinks at least 50 people will attend.

One man who visits Buller regularly from Austria, was horrified to discover "his" tree had gone. He plans to fly out for the wake.

"DoC's excuse was health and safety," Mr Lusk said. "But it's been there for 500 years and (survived) about 20 major earthquakes."

With the hut hidden from view as trampers approached, the kahikatea acted as a beacon.

"I wouldn't know where to take people now to see a tree of that size in Buller."

DoC Buller area manager Bob Dixon said the department had invested $75,000 transforming the 1960s ex-forestry hut.

Moving the hut would have been "phenomenally expensive" in a constrained site; "and we have plenty of trees". It was standard operating procedure when there was a risk to people.

"We are not interested in Mr Lusk grandstanding, particularly when the safety of people is uppermost."

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