Ancient swamp kauri found at Auckland worksite

By D'Angelo Martin

More than 20 pieces of swamp kauri, measuring up to seven metres, have been unearthed at an Auckland construction site that is set to be home to the country's largest retail store.

The kauri was originally going to be discarded and turned into sawdust, however, Lisa Wade, from Ngāti Kahungunu, who is a health and safety officer at the West Auckland worksite, intervened.

"It's been a fight to make sure they're going to go somewhere for us as Māori people, somewhere where they will be cared for," she says.

Even though carbon dating hasn't yet been carried out, some swamp kauri can be buried for 800 to 50,000 years.

Wade says it was a challenge to find a place that would take proper care of the kauri.

"It has been a little hard trying to find somewhere but I finally found Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. I got ahold of Troy [Hart-Webb] who is the tohunga whakairo there."

The kauri was dropped off at the wānanga this morning.

Hart-Webb, a master carver and kaiako at the wānanga, and his students plan to turn the tāonga into carvings.

"Its stories, its history, its whakapapa for us as kaiwhakairo and these tauira are now part of the kaiwhakairo whānau," he says.

"Now, they are a part of the responsibility of the rākau and itself."

It's been quite a journey for these ancient rākau but also a humbling experience for Hart-Webb who is now their kaitiaki.

"Humbling is just how I felt at the beginning but now the responsibility has elevated because now these taonga are in my care and I have to do them justice," he says.

Even for his tauira, it was a journey of connection and realising how lucky they are to be given this opportunity.

"Well, you can just imagine the mauri, the wairua coming in here connecting to these tāonga. First time ever seeing kauri, even swamp kauri. Swamp kauri elevates to another level of preciousness," he says.

The kauri will go into a drying process before Hart-Webb and his students can start to carve these ancestors.