Part of a waterfront road in Russell will be closed in a bid to save an iconic tree thought to be dying due to vehicles driving over its roots.

The temporary closure of a 50m stretch of The Strand will take effect from June 26. It will allow removal of tarmac around a giant Morton Bay fig and an investigation of its roots to see if the tree can be saved.

The fig tree, which is next to the Heritage-listed Russell Police Station and a short distance from the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, is believed to have been planted in 1870. It is about 20m tall with a girth of 5.5m.

However, the massive tree has been in declining health for several years. It has lost significant leaf cover and in 2017 council contractors had to remove a number of dead and dying branches.


An arborist has told the Far North District Council the most likely cause of the tree's decline was the weight of motor vehicles compacting soil under the tarmac and starving the tree of moisture and nutrients.

Without intervention the tree was likely to die, he said.

Once the asphalt has been removed an arborist will investigate the root system to see whether the tree can be saved.

A Heritage New Zealand representative will be present in case any artefacts are uncovered during the work.

Far North District Council infrastructure manager Andy Finch said the section of road would remain closed until the arborist had completed the investigation and reported back to the council.

The report would determine what action would have to be taken to save the tree.

''Almost certainly we will have to remove compacted material from around the roots. Until we get a better understanding of how badly damaged the root system is, it is impossible to say how or if we can protect the tree from further damage."

All homes and businesses could be accessed via York St or the boat ramp end of The Strand.

A letter explaining the road closure would be delivered to Russell businesses and other affected parties, Finch said.

The Strand is a narrow, one way road between Russell Beach and waterfront properties.

Previous proposals to close it to traffic — to make it pedestrian friendly rather than for the fig tree's welfare — have been resisted by parts of the Russell community.

Another spectacular Moreton Bay fig can be found at Pahi by the Kaipara Harbour. Planted in 1865 it is just under 30m tall with a crown 54m wide.

New Zealand's largest Moreton Bay fig is thought to be a thriving 30m-high specimen planted around 1850 in what is now Monte Cecilia Park in the Auckland suburb of Hillsborough.

The Moreton Bay fig is a member of the banyan family native to Queensland and New South Wales.