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Tree Information x

Identifier: NR/1737
Tree Type: Single
Registered By: Smillie, M.J.
Registration Category: Notable tree – International interest
General Notes:
Kairaru is widely held to be the largest kauri tree ever accurately and/or officially measured. A massive 66 ft (20.1 m) in girth, with a straight bole to 100 ft (30.5 m), its timber content was estimated between 453 m3 (in [1] and [2], converted from 192 000 board feet, sawn) to 31,416 ft3 (or 889 m3) total stem volume. That latter higher value was conservatively calculated by Hutchins ([3], page 49) subtracting 10% from the stated diameter (22 ft) as an allowance for bark, hollows and taper. Given that a massive crown would contain anywhere from 100 to 300 m3 of wood, a total wood volume exceeding 1000 m3 is very probable. The only other kauri trees known to rival its size was the larger (by girth anyway) Mill Creek tree at Mercury Bay, measured on at least two occasions at 74 to 78 feet in girth, and the collapsed trunk of a fallen tree found in Warawara Forest in the 1970’s, with a perimeter measured at around 23 to 24 m (also 75 to 78 ft).

Kairaru was first widely documented by Kirk in 1889[4], based on the statement of S. Percy Smith, then Surveyor General. As a district surveyor in the 1870s, Smith was performing the triangulation north of Auckland. While he was cutting a track up a south-east spur of Tutamoe (the second highest peak north of Auckland) with his men carrying equipment behind him:

“I saw (out of the corner of my eye, as it were), in a slight depression, what I took to be a cliff! But as I advanced a few paces I saw that I could look round it, and then it dawned on me that it was a kauri tree of enormous size. I think one of the men measured the tree with his arms, and, at any rate, we came to the conclusion that it was just a chain (66 ft.) round. Some years afterwards I got Henry Wilson, then Crown Lands Ranger from Whangarei district, to visit the tree and measure it. This he did and found it to be just 66 ft. in circumference.”[3], page 189.

Wilson’s measurements for the Lands and Survey Department were quoted in Reed in a letter from Wilson in 1888:

“In reply to your enclosed letter of Professor Kirk to Mr Percy Smith re information about large kauri trees, I forward to you a description of large my district. A kauri tree on the east side of Tutamoe called Kairaru; circumference 66 feet, length 100 feet (clear of branches).”[5], page 62.

The name “Kairaru” is probably best translated as “troublemaker” from kai-(someone who is)-raru (a problem, trouble). The “Kairara” stream has its headwaters on the southeastern slopes of Tutamoe, and it is possible the streams name, or the name of the tree, are misheard/mis-written versions of each other, with Kairara being able to be translated as kai-(someone who)-rara (rushes disorderly, stampedes).

At the time of Kairaru’s measurement in the 1880’s and Hutchins’ subsequent calculation in 1919, Kairaru was acclaimed as the largest known timber tree in the world. Subsequent measurements in the 1920s and 1930s of Sequioa (the Lindsay Creek and Crannell Creek trees) and Sequioadendron (General Sherman et al.) overtook Kairaru, but any such ranking was moot – Kairaru, like many of the kauri giants, had fallen victim to the forest fires in the late 1880s that swept over Northland. Sydney Mair, who was surveying the Mangakahia block in 1891, sent the following in a letter to Reed in 1953:

“Kairaru, in Tutamote, near Waipoua, was killed during the great fires in 1886, when Puhipuhi and other kauri forests suffered so badly... Hearing about this tree, I tramped up the Moewhaine stream to near the foot of Tutamoe Mountain [in 1891]. There I found Kairaru dead, but intact in structure, though the smaller limbs were falling and of course the whole tree devoid of bark. The tree was standing among high fern, and no doubt a second fire would at least burn off the sap[wood], in which the borer[beetle larvae] was well in evidence. As the tree was in a very remote spot I have no doubt successive fires would complete its destruction. It really was a perfect tree in shape, with the barrel undiminished and perfectly circular right to the crotch, where it instantly divided into the enormous head of spreading branches. The skeleton looked as if the tree had been killed in its prime.” [5], page 62.

No other eye witness accounts other than those of Smith, Wilson and Mair are published. A footnote in Hutchins states that a “Mr W B Buckhurst, Crown Lands Ranger, Christchurch knew “Kairaru” well by repute in the old days. He had even seen a photo of it.”[3], page 43. Hutchins himself advertised for any photograph of the tree in 1918, but none appeared forthcoming, as he published no such photograph in his two reports on kauri that year.

Later references to Kairaru in publications were sporadic, and generally concerned with the tree as an exemplar of the species whenever kauri dimensions were debated in the press. Adams provides an interesting tale via Graeme Craw[6], pages 86-88 : Around 1912, the Sarney Brothers (two uncles of a friend of Craw) formed part of a syndicate to salvage the timber from what locals in Dargaville (20 km south of Tutamoe) claimed to be the largest tree in the world, having being blown over when dead. The aim was to provide 3 ft thick sections to museums, rather than mill the timber. A 24 ft custom cross-saw was forged to avoid scarfing the cuts and at least one section was cut, but subsequently overbalanced and destroyed a wagon during transport. World War One intervened, and the project’s funds dried up before it was completed. Several photographs were taken of the fallen tree. Adams then discusses a photograph published by Reed in his booklet “The Kauri” from 1953 and reproduced on page 87 of Adams[6]. That photograph shows 6 or 7 men leaning/sitting on a massive, fallen trunk of a tree, being cut into at least 7 sections, 3 to 4 feet thick each. Reed’s reference states that the tree was driven out of Puhipuhi forest by dam.

Adams took exception to this caption, and considered this the same tree partially sectioned by the Sarney brothers and others, i.e. the fallen Kairaru. Using the standing men as a scale, the tree was considered by Adams to be consistent with the approximate 20 ft diameter of Kairaru. It is noted that the apparent diameter using the men as a scale would be 13 to 15 ft, not 20 ft. Unfortunately, it appears Adams was incorrect. A photograph, by Joseph Cowdell of Whangarei, published in 1907 in the Auckland Weekly News, undisputedly shows the same fallen tree (with all 7 men sitting on it, rather than some standing next to it). The tree was stated as 44 feet in girth (14 ft in diameter) and at “Wairiki [sic]”. Waiariki is 5 km south of Puhipuhi, or some 50 km northeast of Tutamoe, matching the description given by Reed. The photograph reproduced by Adams was almost certainly taken (by Cowdell) at the same time, at least 5 years earlier and 50 km from the setting of Craw’s tale.

Smillie 2021

[1] E. V. Sale, The Quest for the Kauri, Reed, 1978.
[2] J. Halkett and E. V. Sale, The World of the Kauri, Reed, 1986.
[3] D. E. Hutchins, New Zealand Forestry, Volume 1, 1919.
[4] T. Kirk, The Forest Flora of New Zealand, Wellington: Government Printer, 1889.
[5] A. H. Reed, The New Story of the Kauri, Reed, 1964.
[6] J. G. E. Adams, Kauri a king among kings, 2nd Ed., 1986.

Single Tree Details

Genus: Agathis
Species: australis
Common names: kauri,
Given Name: Kairaru
Height: 50.00m
Height measurement method: Estimated
Height Comments: Estimated based on the measured bole height and typical crown sizes of the largest kauri.
Girth: 2011 cm
Girth measurement height: 1.4 m
Girth Comments: Based on the measured 66 ft.
Diameter: 640.1 cm
Crown Spread A: 35.00m
Crown Spread B: 35.00m
Avg. Crown Spread: 35.00m
Actual Planting Date: actual date not specified
Approx. Planting Date:
e.g. circa. 1860
Current Age: not known years
Tree Health Description: Burned in forest fires circa 1886
Tree Form Type: Single Trunk
Number of Trunks: 1
Tree Form Comments: "a perfect tree in shape" according to an eyewitness
Champion Tree Score: 984
Local Protection Status: No
Tree Present: No
STEM Score: 0


Date Observer Action
22 Apr 2021 Smillie, M.J.


Lat/Long: -35.77542691125184 / 173.83273157808839
Location Name: Northland State Forest Park
Address: Nicholls Road
City/Town: Dargaville
Region: Northland
Location Description: Reported to be on a south-east spur on Tutamoe. The location given is an estimate, near the headwaters of Kairara Stream
Public Accessibility: Department of Conservation
Local Authority: Kaipara District Council


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