The theft of key parts of a shoe-cleaning station in Ōpua Forest has put centuries-old kauri at risk according to a nature tour operator.
A disinfectant tank, brushes and drench guns for spraying shoes were stolen from the hygiene station at the entrance to the Ōpua Kauri Walk, on Oromahoe Rd. The station is designed to stop walkers from taking the kauri dieback pathogen into their forest on their shoes.
Ōpua Forest is so far free of the disease, which can be lethal to kauri and has no known cure.
The theft occurred sometime between February 28 and last Friday morning. Only the platform and gates, which are cemented in, were left.
Stella Schmid, of Papatūānuku Earth Mother Tours, said the Department of Conservation had initially supplied her with spray bottles and disinfectant, but that didn't protect the trees when other groups visited the forest. She had "had a haka" until DoC agreed to install the hygiene station about a year ago.
The theft had saddened her.
"The whole point of the station is to protect our taonga that's going to become extinct if we don't look after it," she said.
Kauri forests once covered 250,000ha of Aotearoa. Now just 1 per cent remained, and that was under threat from kauri dieback.
"They just haven't thought about the consequences of their actions. If people come here from another forest and they can't clean their shoes it could mean the death of these trees. I don't know how they can be so thoughtless," Ms Schmid said.
DoC Bay of Islands senior ranger Marty Akroyd agreed that the theft put kauri at risk.
"We'll have to fix it as soon as possible. We may have to put in bottles and brushes until it's replaced," said, adding that DoC would consider how to make thefts more difficult in future.
Drench guns had previously been stolen from the Forest Pools hygiene station, near Ōkaihau, but this was the first time a tank had been taken.
The theft was reported to the police in Kerikeri on Friday. Anyone with any information is asked to report it to the police on 105, or via Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555-111.