The power of the trees
Whirinaki is best known for its awe-inspiring trees. The greatest of these are known as podocarps and include rimu, tōtara, kahikatea, mataī and miro.
These forest giants have always been valued but in quite different ways now compared to the past. Visitors who marvel at their great height and size are often surprised to learn that logging of this forest ceased as recently as the mid-1980s.
Timber milling first began at Te Whaiti in 1928 when Crown and Māori land was logged for tōtara fencing material. As demand for high quality wood gradually increased, a sawmill and the original Minginui Village were built near the present village site in the 1930s to help supply the timber. Work was plentiful and before long Minginui had three sawmills. The annual cut of native trees was large—up to 30,000 cubic metres.
Ongoing demand saw fast-growing exotic species planted where the much slower-growing natives had been logged. By the late 1970s around 130 people were employed in the forest industry at Whirinaki.
But times were changing. In 1975 the three mills amalgamated and between 1978 and 1979 a bitter public controversy raged over the future of the forest. Conservation groups actively campaigned to stop the native harvest and came into direct conflict with the local community who saw this as a threat to their lifestyle and employment. In 1985 a new government ended the logging of native trees and by 1987 all logging of native timber had stopped at Whirinaki.