When we first came to Auckland, I couldn't believe Titirangi. Down south, people had no idea such a place existed and there was no way to adequately describe it.

"Bush suburb" didn't do it justice. This was Auckland bush, dense, green subtropical rainforest, and the "suburb" was barely visible when you were in it. Many of the houses were on poles hidden in the trees, trees such as I'd never seen.

Kauri doesn't grow in the south and the natives that do, even rimu and totara, do not seem to stand quite as grandly as they do in Auckland's wet warmth, at least not until they're ancient.

Titirangi's trees were young, having regenerated naturally since the rugged south-facing coast of the Manukau had defied colonial farmers, I guess. The kauri, rimu, tanekaha and the rest were already as tall as they would get but still slender, strong and glowing with good health.

Advertisement

I'd come to the Auckland Star where I shared a desk with environment reporter Cei Richardson who had a house in Wood Bay. She often had us to dinner and I used to marvel that such a place could exist just over the ridge from suburbia. Their house was high in the trees and every window was a bush diorama.

They could've had a view of the Manukau, I suppose, if they'd cleared some of the trees. The subject never came up.

We bought a section in French Bay, a pristine patch of bush at the bottom of the valley. It was easy to see where a house could be built among the kauri without removing any of them. We'd need only to clear some of the fern which would hurt enough.

That was before the OE.

We returned four years later with a toddler and the bush seemed too isolating for mother and child. The section was sold and the buyers, bless them, built a house where I had envisaged one. Bless all the property owners of Titirangi and the Waitakeres who have retained an environment I still like to show people from out of town.

The place is an urban inspiration. The evidence that native bush can regenerate so well in little more than 100 years has caused me to plant kauri, rimu and other saplings on every section I've had.

Judging by the number of natives on sale in plant nurseries, many Aucklanders must be doing likewise. We'll never see them at full height but they're planted in hope that the next generations might.

The North Shore, where we settled, used to have a reasonable tree protection bylaw. Trees above a specified size on private property needed council permission to be cut down. Permission was not hard to get and the sanctions were weak if chainsaw cowboys acted quickly for residents who could later plead ignorance. But the law at least told residents their tall trees have a value beyond their fence.

Advertisement

One of the silliest things the present Government has done in my view was to make blanket tree protection illegal. Now, any trees a neighbourhood wants to protect need to be individually designated by the council, which is impractical and was intended to be.

National did this in its first year of power, no doubt fulfilling an Opposition promise to supporters railing about restrictions on the right to do what they like on their own property. It is surprising how many buy into a leafy street and immediately set about making it less so.

Environment Minister Nick Smith defended the Government's decision at that time.

In the Cabinet room he might have argued differently. He and new Conservation Minister Maggie Barry weighed into the stand-off over a kauri marked for felling by a property owner at Titirangi this week. They were on the kauri's side, which could mean Barry is making a difference in the Cabinet. She was not even in Parliament when blanket protection was outlawed.

Her words this week were notably stronger than Smith's. He hoped the kauri could be "spared if at all possible", adding that it was the council's call. She said, "I do not support the felling of any mature kauri trees".

Let's hold her to that next time the Government starts to cut a motorway through a swathe of them.

New Zealand's native trees have a particular freshness about them. Old as the precious few survivors of a century of farm clearances can be, they are young among the world's species. Too young to be even deciduous.

They are the vigorous moss of rock that was thrust above sea level very recently in geological time. The way they grow straight, high and succulently green is a fine, fertile expression of the country's natural character. I don't know how any of us can cut one down.