Kauri is among the world's mightiest trees, growing to more than 50 metres tall, with trunk girths of up to 16 metres. These trees covered much of the top half of the North Island when the first people arrived. In the 19th century the arrival of European settlers saw the decimation of these magnificent forests. Sailors quickly realised the trunks of young kauri were ideal for ships' masts and spars. Later settlers discovered the mature trees yielded sawn timber of unsurpassed quality for building. The gum, too, became essential in the manufacture of varnishes.
Today, 80, 000 hectares of kauri forests remain. The largest remaining kauri tree in the country, known as Tane Mahuta, stands in the forests of Waipoua, Northland. These forests are vitally important refuges for threatened wildlife, such as the North Island kokako and North Island brown kiwi.
Kauri were a favoured subject of Painter Colin McCahon featuring in more than 50 of his works.
New Zealand's Kauri trees are now seriously threatened by an incurable, fungus like disease known as Kauri dieback. This has become a major concern. As the disease is spread in infected mud tracked from tree to tree, restrictions are being imposed on access to Kauri forests with a rāhui being placed over the Waitākere Ranges.