Logging at Mangawai

By: Bev Ross

By the 1850s, native tree felling was taking place all over the north of New Zealand. The prime target was giant kauri. No matter how remote the tree location, man sought it out, cut it down and shaped it ready for transportation to the nearest port. During those years of onslaught, no conservation rules were in place. Any tree that stood in the way of falling kauri was also destroyed. It wasn’t exactly that all other native trees were in demand, so much as they just happened to be in the way of getting the highly valued kauri out.

Skilled bushmen built wooden dams in upper creek areas. Large trees were cut and shaped before moving, with axe and saw, then moved with lever, ‘timber jacks’ and ‘block and tackle’ into the dams. A catchment might hold scores of kauri logs, waiting for flood situations. When the time was right, dams were ‘triggered’, by the opening of trip-gates, and the water was freed. If other dams were located further down the creeks, then simultaneous ‘triggering’ was at times set in motion. They did not have telephone communication back then, but in some cases, signaling was done by the firing of a shotgun or some other prearranged method by sound.

Logs flew down gullies, crashing and clattering, together with water’s gravitational fall. Damage to the logs was high. It was an effective way of getting logs out from the high country, but statistics tell us that between 30 to 40 per cent of logs were destroyed by this method. Bullock teams were then brought in to drag the enormous trunks to mill sites or directly to waiting ships.

On the North Oruawharo, an enterprising settler, Mr Penman, had a sawmill, Woodside Mill, which worked by water power in full operation. The machinery was his own workmanship and reflected great credit on his ability. He sent both milled and hand-sawn timbers to Port Mangawai for export to Auckland.

Steam-driven sawmills were created for the huge amount of timber worked out of forests surrounding Mangawai and districts. They could be found at Tara, Hakaru, Te Arai and Mangawai. There were mills on Insley Street (prior to the street being formed,) Hastie’s farm, Wharfe Bros farm, Brown’s farm, and Stones Mill, near Clarke Road. There were four mills at one time on Ryan’s Road. The most famous one was Mill Bush mill, near Hakaru.

Hundreds of thousands of feet of kauri were exported to Auckland via Mangawai estuary, often transported by scows. An area, out from the hotel, was known as ‘the anchor’. It was the holding area, before floating logs were chained together to form ‘rafts’ for towage to Auckland. The rafts were constructed by creating a main ‘metallic chain stem’, which had links of eight inches plus. The rafts were formed into a ‘herringbone’ shape and some raft lengths reached half a mile long and were towed away by steamer.

Bev Ross, Mangawhai Museum


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