By ANGELA GREGORY
WAIPOUA - The mighty Tane Mahuta will fall one day ... but a millennium project will ensure the giant kauri's legacy survives.
The first 40 of 2000 kauri seedlings grown from the enormous tree were yesterday planted in farmland next to the Waipoua Forest.
It is the first time seedlings from Tane Mahuta had been planted, and the gully plantation is the first step in creating a new 140ha millennium kauri forest.
Towering 52m high and known as the lord of the forest, Tane Mahuta is the tallest kauri in New Zealand, and the largest rainforest tree in the world.
Standing in front of the more than 2000-year-old tree, Internal Affairs Minister Mark Burton said the new forest was an inspired idea, and the biggest millennium project in New Zealand.
"There can be no more fitting a place to celebrate the new millennium than in the company of this living treasure, and from it a gift for the new millennium."
Mr Burton gave the Waipoua Forest Trust a lottery grant cheque for $1.4 million, and the land title to a 120ha property next to the southern end of the forest.
Most of the money will be spent on more land purchases - mainly a former beef farm and 20ha of smaller holdings - to create a solid southern extension to the Waipoua forest.
Trust chairman Alex Nathan said it was an honour and privilege to stand in the presence of the "ancient and awesome" taonga (treasure) of Tane Mahuta.
Mr Nathan said the planting marked the beginning of the restoration programme for kauri for the benefit of all New Zealanders, and ultimately the world.
"Rainforests are daily being destroyed," he said. "This will provide some redress to that disastrous situation. We are undertaking a task of global proportions."
Mr Nathan said the trust was an example of the community and iwi working together.
The idea for the new kauri plantation came from local forest ecologist Stephen King, who said yesterday that the kauri would also provide more habitat for kiwi.
Waipoua Forest had the largest surviving population of North Island brown kiwi.
"Kauri and kiwi are central to New Zealand's identity. The kauri trees are our cathedrals, but they're older than English cathedrals and still alive - it's a living heritage."
Mr King said the Tane Mahuta seeds varied genetically, but all contained superior stock which in the right conditions could produce giant specimens.
Seedlings for the new forest had also been collected from other ancient Waipoua trees, including the 3000-year-old Te Matua Ngahere, the father of the forest.
He expected the farmland would be planted with kauri and other native trees within four years.
The first job for the volunteer workers - mainly youth and iwi members - was to prepare a kauri nursery with tens of thousands of manuka plants.
Mr King said the trust would develop an education centre based on the evolving forest.
It was about to employ a university graduate to start preparing material which could be used in schools around the country.
Someone who needed no education on the benefits of the project was 73-year-old kaumatua Taoho Nathan, who played in the long shadows of Tane Mahuta as a child.
Mr Nathan, of Dargaville, was born in the Waipoua Forest, as was his cousin, 72-year-old Nahu Timoko, who came to the ceremony from his Manurewa home.
The pair are the last of their generation in the local Te Roroa iwi, and appreciated the efforts to preserve some of the past for the future.
To press home the message to the next generation, pupils representing 20 Kaipara schools were called on to do the bulk of the first plantings.
Said Mr King: "You are the ones who will be around longest to watch them grow."