Ten walking tracks in the Bay of Islands have been permanently closed to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease.
The Department of Conservation made the announcement yesterday with acting Bay of Islands operations manager Martin Akroyd saying the 10 ''high-risk'' tracks had to be shut down to protect kauri and stop the disease from spreading.
Eight of the 10 tracks are in the Puketi and Omahuta Forests, midway between the Bay of Islands and Hokianga. Together they form one of the largest tracts of native bush in Northland and one of the largest surviving kauri forests in the country.
Kauri dieback disease has been confirmed in Omahuta Forest but not yet in Puketi, though several suspected cases are being tested.
The other track closures are in Russell-Ngaiotonga Forest on the east coast south of Russell.
Akroyd appealed to Northlanders to heed the track bans.
"We urge the public to respect the closures and no longer access these tracks, otherwise they'll be putting our kauri at great risk."
DOC consulted with Treaty partners before making the call, he said.
The closed tracks are:
Puketi Forest: Mangahorehore Track, Onekura Track, Pukekohe Stream Track, Upper Waipapa River Track, Walnut Track, Waihoanga Gorge Kauri Walk and Takapau Track.
Omahuta Forest: Omahuta Kauri Sanctuary Walk.
Russell-Ngaiotonga Forest: Kauri Grove Walk and Twin Bole Kauri Walk.
The good news, however, is that several other tracks through Omahuta and Puketi Forests are due to reopen later this year after a major upgrade designed to stop walkers spreading the pathogen.
It is understood the track upgrades — which include Pukatea Ridge Track, Lower Waipapa River Track and a section of Te Araroa, the long-distance trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff — are complete but boot-cleaning stations still have to be installed.
During the upgrade Te Araroa users have had to take the long way around the forest on back roads.
Puketi Forest is home to an ambitious, volunteer-run restoration project which has been working since 2003 to eradicate introduced pests from 5500ha of rugged bush. The group has also reintroduced locally extinct species such as toutouwai (North Island robin) and kōkako.
Meanwhile, in Waipoua Forest, Tāne Mahuta is so far free of kauri dieback but the pathogen was found just 60m away late last year.
In May DOC closed the Four Sisters Track, also at Waipoua, after infected trees were found nearby.
Kauri dieback is caused by a microscopic fungus-like organism called Phytophthora agathidicida.
It lives in soil and infects kauri roots, damaging tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving it to death. It can be spread by people, pigs, goats, cattle and horses.
Many tracks in Auckland's Waitakere and Hunua ranges were closed in 2018 in a bid to stop the pathogen's spread. The disease has also been confirmed at Puketotara, west of Kerikeri, and Whangaroa Forest near Totara North.