More than 75,000 kauri saplings will be planted on Māori land in the Far North in a bid to create a forest sanctuary where the iconic species will be safe from kauri dieback disease.
The kauri sanctuary project at Takou Bay, on the east coast north of the Bay of Islands, has received a $170,000 shot in the arm from the Government's One Billion Trees Fund.
The money will pay for about 45ha of land on the northern side of 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.
To get there, Jones and a bevy of officials had to drive to Takou Bay, get a ride in a four-wheel-drive through deep mud, then be ferried across the river on a local barge, all while dodging bursts of heavy rain.
Project manager Clinton Rameka said 75,000 kauri seeds had been gathered from 60 trees further up 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, which had covered the site to a height of several metres, build a fence around the perimeter, and set up wash stations for disinfecting footwear.
Next, they would build a fence to keep out pigs and another to keep out possums, cats and stoats.
Planting mānuka, pohutukawa and other native species on the flat land along the river would start immediately, 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.
''So anything on this site is already elevated to a higher level.''
Although the project was on Māori land, it would benefit all New Zealanders, Munro said.
Harry Kent, a senior advisor with 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 is the driving force behind the sanctuary and virtually everything else that happens at Takou Bay.
''This is the most important job I've had in my life, because of what it is and where it is,'' Kent said.
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.
This 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 been confirmed in Omahuta Forest, at Puketotara and near Totara North. Suspected cases have been found in Puketi Forest and Paikauri Conservation Area near Mangonui.
Yesterday's announcement was also attended by Far North Mayor John Carter and representatives from the Department of Conservation, Northland Regional Council and Ngāti Whare.