Quicksand swallowing large machinery and sandblasting conditions on exposed sand dunes covering vast areas were the harsh conditions of the pioneering workers planting the pine forests of the Far North in the 1970s.
Before roads had been properly formed or cellphones, the forestry gangs endured difficult and isolated work conditions.
Among the workers was the forest operations manager for Summit Forests, Murray Braithwaite, who has recently retired from his 52-year career in forestry.
He is among the few people to have stayed in the same job for long enough to see a forest grown from scratch in the remote sands of Aupouri to harvesting and replanting.
"I think that's quite an achievement,'' he said.
His retirement was marked at a function at Pukenui with about 100 people attending to pay tribute to his long career, with most of it spent at the same location.
"We used the beach as a road and had to go with tides to get to new areas being established before the forestry roads were built.
"We had to deal with loose drifting sand and quicksand and all vehicles, tractors and bulldozers would get stuck at some stage.''
The tractors were two-wheel drive with double rear wheels to be able to grip in the sand more effectively.
"I was always pretty cautious around quicksand,'' he said.
Braithwaite recalled being on a six-man planter when the International TD20 bulldozer dropped the winch rope but didn't move off.
"When I got out of the planter to see what was going on, the bulldozer had sunk in the sand. It was like placing something heavy where it bends but doesn't break.
Then the sand collapsed in and engulfed the tracks of the bulldozer, sinking it down close to two metres. In an attempt to get the bulldozer out, they strapped a strainer post across its tracks.
"On full power the bulldozer could just turn one track only. They needed another bulldozer to anchor and winch it and, even then, it took several days to retrieve it. It then had to be stripped down because there was sand all through the working components.''
Even when roads were built, they were pretty atrocious in wet weather. "Some had only clay and no metal and I can remember seeing many vehicles going down the road sideways after heavy rain.''
Braithwaite said sand would get through everything.
"We covered up as much as possible to keep the sand off as it was like having someone pouring sand over you all day.
"Sand would also get into our machinery so good maintenance was needed on all the gear.''
Braithwaite started his career as a trainee woodsman in the Kaingaroa Forest in 1970 with the encouragement of his beloved grandfather, who had worked in a sawmill pit.
After two years learning the basics of planting, pruning, thinning and harvesting, Braithwaite transferred to Forest Research in Rotorua working in the mensuration department, measuring trees and recording the measurements to produce volume tables to calculate how much timber was in the forest.
In 1975, he transferred to the Te Hiku Forest, formerly known as Aupouri Forest, where he has worked ever since.
Braithwaite said when he first arrived at Aupouri, it was raw sand from Hukatere Rd north. Tree planting was in progress near Waipapakauri and had been planted up to Steeds Rd.
The sand needed to be stabilised before tree planting, so there was a large programme planting marram grass and lupins. Once these had become established, pine trees could be planted after about five years.
Braithwaite said forestry workers had to be extremely fit and strong, with each expected to dig a tonne of marram grass each day to be carted to planting sites. About 1000ha of raw sand was planted in marram grass each year, he said.
When planting, D6-sized bulldozers would pull the planting machine over the raw sand, creating three furrows for the six-man crews to plant in. There were also tractors that did the wet flats where there was likely to be quicksand.
"On top of that, there were hand planters that planted the areas that were too steep for the bulldozers to access."
The tree planting was mostly done with small bulldozers – either Allis Charmers HD6 or D4 Caterpillar – towing either a trailing arm or Louther tree planters. Each machine would plant around 10,000 seedling pines per day.
Crews would string up wires to get a signal to their VHF radio sets at night.
"Once repeaters were installed in the area there was a huge change in suddenly being able to talk to people more easily,'' he said.
With the Te Hiku Forest covering about 19,000ha, fire is the biggest enemy and all workers are trained in dealing with forest fires.
"I remember two fires that were particularly large and devastating. It was horrible to watch all those years of work go up in flames. A forest cannot be replaced quickly.
"The flat terrain of the Te Hiku Forest makes firefighting particularly tricky because there are no natural barriers to slow down the flames.''
Summit started its New Zealand operations in 2013 and is now the seventh-largest forestry business in New Zealand, with over 50,000ha of forestry.
The estate is spread throughout Northland, Coromandel, Whanganui and the Gisborne and East Coast regions. Summit's main areas of business include harvesting, exporting logs and private woodlots and investing in New Zealand forestry assets for the future.
Summit is a big employer in Northland and employs more than 200 staff and contractors around New Zealand. It proudly supports the communities it works in and holds local events such as the upcoming Summit Forests Kaitaia Trail Run/Walk on August 7.
As for Braithwaite, his plans are more centred on fishing.