A rare pair of kauri gum busts depicting two remarkable Maori characters from early New Zealand history have surfaced at auction.

The carved Maori heads are being sold at auction in Auckland next week by an elderly Nelson region man who hopes the artefacts can be preserved in a museum.

The busts, which are at least a century old, feature high-ranking Ngati Porou chief, Tamati Tamaiwhakanehua and his granddaughter Princess Te Rangi Pai, also known as Fanny Howie, who penned the famous New Zealand lullaby, Hine E Hine.

Carving busts - and other crafts including jewellery - from fossilised resin extracted from kauri trees was a popular activity in the nineteenth century.

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However, many of the busts are smaller and feature less-intricate detail than the pair that Kim Brice grew up with admiring on his family's mantelpiece.

"They were quite awe-inspiring and special to us," said Brice, who is selling the items on behalf of his 77-year-old father, Jarvis "Codge" Hamilton Brice.

"Dad just wants them to go to a good home, possibly a museum."

Brice is a descendant of Te Rangi Pai whose song Hine E Hine was used from 1979 to 1994 in TV2's iconic Goodnight Kiwi animation.

The carvings are already attracting interest, domestically and internationally, ahead of their sale at Cordy's Antique & Art auction in Remuera on Tuesday.

"The pair of kauri gum busts are certainly the largest that we have handled and to remain intact and together after 100-plus is quite an achievement," said auctioneer Andrew Grigg.

"They have a good provenance and a real presence, the carver has captured an elegance that is often lost."

The carved Maori heads are being sold at auction in Auckland next week. Photo / Supplied
The carved Maori heads are being sold at auction in Auckland next week. Photo / Supplied

Quality New Zealand historical items are becoming increasingly collectible, Grigg said.

A kauri gum mere hand club previously sold for $7500 at Cordy's.

Grigg believes the estimate of $4500 for the pair of busts, standing 245mm and 255mm in height, with stained hair and moko, and mounted on flat circular ebonised plinths, will be surpassed.

"I am looking forward to seeing the outcome of this one," he said.