More than 75,000 kauri saplings will be planted on Māori land at Takou Bay in a bid to create a forest sanctuary where the iconic species will be safe from kauri dieback disease.
The kauri sanctuary project has received a $170,000 shot in the arm from the Government's One Billion Trees Fund, which will pay for about 45ha of land on the northern side of the Takou River, owned by the hapū Ngāti Rehia, to be planted in kauri. A similar area alongside the river will be planted in other natives to act as a protective buffer.
The grant was announced by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones during a visit to the isolated but spectacular site on Friday, after he and a bevy of officials drove to Takou Bay, were given a ride in a four-wheel-drive through deep mud, and were then ferried across the river on a local barge.
Project manager Clinton Rameka said 75,000 kauri seeds had been gathered from 60 trees further up the Takou River after scientists from Crown research agency Scion determined the sanctuary and collection sites were free of kauri dieback. Scion's tests of more than 250 soil samples were paid for by an earlier Provincial Growth Fund grant of $288,000.
Takou Bay locals had been employed to remove the gorse that had covered the site to a height of several metres, to build a fence around the perimeter, and set up wash stations for disinfecting footwear. Next they would build fences to keep out pigs and another to keep out possums, cats and stoats.
Planting mānuka, pohutu-kawa and other native species on the flat land along the river would start immediately, Mr Rameka said.
Most of the kauri would be grown by Minginui Nurseries, owned by Ngāti Whare. The Bay of Plenty iwi had also received PGF funding, and, like Ngāpuhi, traced their whakapapa back to the waka Mataatua.
The young kauri would be ready for planting in about two years' time, by which time the buffer trees would offer some protection.
Ngāti Rehia chairman Kipa Munro said the land at Takou Bay was of great historical significance. It included a pā built by Ngāpuhi's eponymous ancestor Puhi, an urupā (cemetery), a former papakainga (village), and the final resting place of the waka Mataatua.
Although the project was on Māori land, it would benefit all New Zealanders, he added.
Harry Kent, a senior adviser at Te Uru Rākau (formerly Forestry NZ), said the project was internationally significant. He nicknamed it Nora's Ark, after Nora Rameka, a Ngāti Rehia kuia who was the driving force behind the sanctuary and virtually everything else that happened at Takou Bay.
"This is the most important job I've had in my life, because of what it is and where it is."
M Jones said the sanctuary was an exciting idea in the kind of forgotten area the PGF was set up to benefit. He described Takou Bay as a place of incongruity, where a small pocket of Māori land, with significant challenges but rich history, rubbed up against one of New Zealand's top golf courses owned by a US billionaire.
Last week DoC closed another 10 walking tracks in the Far North to stop the spread of kauri dieback. In the wider Bay of Islands the disease has so far been confirmed in Omahuta Forest, at Puketotara, and near Totara North. Suspected cases have been found in Puketi Forest and the Paikauri Conservation Area, near Mangonui.
Last week's announcement was also attended by Far North mayor John Carter and representatives from the Department of Conservation, Northland Regional Council and Ngāti Whare.