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Guardians of the Kauri story, past, present and future.
Ngā kaitiaki ō ngā kauri kōrero ō nehera, ō wātu me te wāheke.

With 4,500m2 of undercover displays, The Kauri Museum is the largest undercover attraction in Northland. It is a community Museum governed by a Charitable Trust, the Otamatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum Board.

The Kauri Museum is self-funded through admission and shop revenue, and receives no local or central government operational funding.

Kauri Museum appoints Dr Jason Smith as Director

(23 September 2023)

Following an internal recruitment process, the Board of the Kauri Museum in Matakohe is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Jason Smith to the permanent position of Museum Director, effective immediately. Dr Smith has been Acting Director at the Kauri Museum since August following the resignation of previous Director Barbara Hilden who returned to Canada for family reasons.


The recruitment panel comprising Board Members Pam Goode, Terry Moyle and Mel Juer explained their confidence in Dr Smith saying “We believe Jason is the right fit for leading the Kauri Museum following its recent successful redevelopment and rebranding. Jason brings a highly suitable combination of experience and understanding of the cultural sector and of tourism, the Kauri Museum and the place of the kauri in the New Zealand story. With his wide networks, trusted relationships and the mana we believe is necessary for the Kauri Museum now and ahead, we believe Jason brings exciting leadership to this important institution. We look forward to Jason leading the museum forward from here.”

Dr Jason Smith is a fifth-generation local descendant of Matakohe Albertland pioneers for whom the Kauri Museum was dedicated. Very familiar with the kauri story, Jason had a Matakohe-based small eco-tourism business called “Kauri Country” which was a New Zealand Tourism Award Finalist for Eco-tourism in 2000. His doctorate is about New Zealand’s creative economy and the importance of non-city places in that, inspired by the fact the Kauri Museum is a success “in the middle of nowhere” which defied popular global economic development theories. In 2011 Jason was Senior Policy Advisor (Auckland) at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, focused on museum and cultural space strategies in the city. Most recently Jason was two-term Kaipara District Mayor until 2022. Kauri tourism, economic development, cultural policy and a strong sense of local place are in his DNA.

The Board is delighted to appoint Museum Director Dr Jason Smith and is working closely with him to ensure smooth handover continuity for Kauri Museum staff and volunteers as the busy visitor season approaches.

Kauri Museum Recruitment

(5 July 2023)


It is with regret that the Kauri Museum announces the departure at the end of July of its Director, Barbara Hilden.

Barbara joined the Museum from Canada in February 2022 to help structure a return from Covid and deliver the Museum’s $3M PGF-funded development. Family illness in Canada is now necessitating her return.

Kauri Museum board chair Grant McCallum said it’s a disappointment Barbara will be moving on just as her first big projects are completed. “We have made tremendous progress under Barbara’s leadership and are sorry to see her go. As we say sad farewells, we’ve started an international search to recruit her successor. The Kauri Museum is a tremendous resource for Northland and Aotearoa and, with the recent completion of the redevelopment project, we have become a refreshed international destination. Our journeys of modernisation and reconciliation are well and truly underway and we’re looking for our next Director to continue that work.”

While the Kauri Museum is recruiting its next Director, former Kaipara District Mayor Dr Jason Smith will fill in as Acting Director to help maintain continuity and momentum from the recent redevelopment. “There’s an exciting new era beginning for the Kauri Museum” said Jason, “and I’m honoured to help steward this institution for a few months until the new Director will be in place.” A lifelong Matakohe resident and ardent Northland supporter, Jason brings extensive experience in the kauri tourism sector alongside a wealth of cultural policy, economic development and relationship development experience that will not only help keep the Museum running seamlessly, but also grow its profile.

Jason and Barbara, working together with the Board’s Recruitment Committee, will help ensure that the Museum’s next Director is well positioned to take on the role—and that they understand what a privilege it is. “I’m devastated to be leaving so soon,” Barbara said, “but the Museum is a wonderful place and I’m so excited for whomever comes next.”



Renewed Kauri Museum celebrates redevelopment with a grand opening

(27 June 2023)

New Zealand’s largest tree is being honoured at the opening of a new redevelopment including a new “forest walkway” at Northland’s Kauri Museum.

The Museum has undergone a large redevelopment project recently and is inviting the public to come see the changes and enjoy the new environment. About 100 guests are expected at a dawn ceremony on Saturday July 22 to mark the official opening of the project, after which the Museum will be open to the public for free throughout the weekend. The new walkway features a virtual forest path through tall “trees” – not actual trees but cleverly designed light boxes – which lead guests through a newly-built space alive with a natural soundscape.  The work was part of a multi-phase project supported by a $3 million grant from the Provincial Development Unit.

Museum Board Chair Grant McCallum said the funds for redevelopment included creating a Research Centre where people can access the Museum collections and Archives, undertake genealogical research, and better understand the significance of Kauri.

Kauri Museum Director Barbara Hilden said the Museum was delighted that this stage of work was finally completed and could be unveiled for the public to enjoy.

“It’s been a long time in the making but we are thrilled with the result. The redevelopment and new forest walkway represents a significant shift in the types of stories we tell, how we present ourselves, and the sort of partnerships we prioritise. Everyone involved has done a wonderful job of modernising how we share information in a very experiential and powerful way.”

The forest “trees” were created by Story Inc, a New Zealand company specialising in creating compelling stories and digital experiences through cutting-edge technology. Regional museums with traditional settler collections are facing challenges, not only in attracting visitors in today’s digital world, but in recognizing themes of decolonisation, said Ms Hilden.

“We are on a journey to expand beyond our origins as a settler-oriented community museum into one that tells a national story from a variety of diverse viewpoints. He tina ki runga, he tāmore ki raro — In order to flourish above, one must be firmly rooted below.”

Building work at Museum creates new entrance and forest experience

(30 June 2022)

A new walkway that will take visitors back in time is under construction at the Museum. The largest of a number of current renovation projects, the Forest Walkway will provide a new introduction space for visitors, connecting the front of the Museum right though to the Volunteers Hall.

Taking shape behind the Museum’s historic Matakohe Post Office, the foundations for the Forest Walkway indicate the size of the extension. Steelwork has been fabricated ready for the structural works to be completed over the coming months prior to fitout in spring.

Board Chairman Grant McCallum reports that the projects funded by Kanoa (the Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit) are on time and progressing well. “It’s been a challenge, like all the building industry, with shortages of materials, and the industry being flat out, and delivery issues” he says. “The Forest Walkway will emulate that early Gondwana Land experience. Visitors will enter the Museum through a walkway representing the ancient kauri forests which will make it a lot easier for us to explain what the reality of those forests was like, then we want to introduce them to the story of the first human interaction with those forests and the way Maori lived in the Kaipara.”

Other renovation projects are changing the visitor experience at the Museum. Renovations at the Gumdiggers Café are the most obvious project for many visitors. “We had to do a lot of foundation work to strengthen the deck area of the café. That work has now been completed, along with the painting and new flooring in the main area of the café. We have now received final consents from the KDC, so can get on to installing the toilets. That’s a major step, as the café did not have them before” says Grant. The roof of Gumdiggers is also to be replaced, which will involve closing the building. From Monday August 1 until reopening on Saturday August 27 the café will be operating from the Matakohe Hall.

Elsewhere work on internal renovations to provide enhanced research facilities have kicked off, which involved moving the Pioneers Collection up to the exhibition space at the front of the museum. Work continues on the education experience being offered, which will be a focus of attention for Barbara.

Museum Director

(21 February 2022)

The Kauri Museum has announced  the appointment of Canadian Barbara Hilden as the Museum’s new Director.

Barbara joins the Museum at a critical phase of planning and reshaping exhibition design and delivery, as the Kauri Museum received in June 2020 $3m of Provincial Growth Funds for a makeover that includes creating a centre of excellence for people to have a deeper and stronger understanding of the significance of kauri. 


Museum Board chairman Grant McCallum says the Board is delighted with the appointment. “Barbara brings considerable international and museology experience to the role and the Board was impressed with her vision for the future of museums and her focus on working with all our communities to tell our stories as we chart a new path in a post Covid world.”


Currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Barbara has been working for Puki Ariki Museum in New Plymouth since 2020 as the Collections and Curatorial Lead, although the Covid border restrictions has meant that she has been carrying out work from Canada.


The kauri tree Agathis australis

Scientific Name: Agathis australis
Family: Araucariaceae
Genus: Agathis
Species: Australis is the only species endemic to New Zealand

The kauri tree, Agathis australis, is New Zealand’s largest and most famous native tree. The kauri is related to the conifer tree and grows in the subtropical northern part of New Zealand’s North Island.
Ancestors of the kauri first appeared in the Jurassic Period 190 – 135 million years ago. The kauri – podocarp (cone bearing) forests are among the most ancient in the world.

The largest kauri standing is Tane Mahuta (Māori for ‘Lord of the Forest’). Tāne Mahuta is 4.4 metres in diameter and 17.7 metres to the first branch, and can be seen in Waipoua Forest. The oldest tree is estimated to be 3,000 years old. This is Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) also in Waipoua Forest. Displays in The Kauri Museum show older and larger trees which grew in the past.


The Kauri Museum - Guardians of the kauri story, past, present and future.

The Kauri Museum was opened in 1962 to commemorate the arrival of the Albertland Settlers to the district. Initial called a Pioneer Museum the museum quickly developed, through the support of the community, and our many visitors, into an unmissable stop on the Kauri Coast. The focus on the kauri tree and the stories relating to the kauri industries, industries that founded the nation of New Zealand, speak of the visionary leadership of the founders of the Museum.

From its small beginnings the Museum continued to grow and now encompasses more than 4500m2 of covered displays. We continue to explore the story of the kauri tree past, present and future.

Kauri forests

Kauri forests once covered much of the land north of the Coromandel (south of Auckland). Abundant with bird life and a diverse range of flora and fauna the forests lived on this landscape for 100 million years. 

Land clearance and logging of the ancient forest has resulted in only a small fraction of the ancient kauri remaining in the twenty first century. 

Whilst concerns for the cutting down of the kauri forests began in the nineteenth century it was not until 1985 that the New Zealand Government put an end to logging of live kauri trees.


Kauri timber

Many years ago, long wide planks of faultless, superb timber were cut from the mighty kauri tree trunks. The timber was used for many purposes: ship building (including masts and spars of sailing ships), houses, furniture, bridges, fences, dams, patterns (used for metal casting), vats and tanks, barrels, large rollers (in the textile industry), railway sleepers, mine-props, carving, wood turning and a myriad other uses. Kauri timber was exported all over the world through the nineteenth century.

Swamp kauri refers to kauri timber which has been recovered from under the ground. This kauri comes from forests which were buried by natural cataclysmic events. Carbon dating indicates that logs were buried up to 50,000 years ago. Leaves and cones are often preserved in the anaerobic conditions with the logs but quickly deteriorate when exposed to the air. Swamp kauri is naturay stained by the soil it is buried beneath producing rich dark brown and greenish hues emphasising the grain.
Older kauri is on display in the museum, including a 30 million year old
Australian kauri from the Yallourn coalfield in Victoria.


Kauri Gum

Kauri gum is a resin which bleeds from the kauri tree where bark is damaged or a branch broken – the resin bleeds to seal the wound, preventing rot or water getting into the tree. Gum can build up into a hard lump. As the tree grows and bark is shed, gum is forced off to fall to the ground, a process that has been happening for millions of years. Many years ago, there were vast quantities of gum in the ground. New Zealand’s fossil kauri gum, found in coal, has been dated as 43 million years old. More recent gum from 10,000 to 30,000 years old is known as kauri copal (or resinite). This gum is our version of juvenile amber. 

Kauri gum, as with the timber was an important export for New Zealand being sent overseas by the ton. It was collected from the ground by picking up the exposed pieces where the forests had once grown. As the easily found gum disappeared, the gum diggers probed in the ground with spears to locate the gum nuggets, then dug it up with spades. 

Trees were also a source of gum – collectors would chip pieces of old hard gum from the branches and top (or head) of trees where it had collected for many years. Attempts were also made extract further gum by cutting the trees to bleed fresh gum, collecting it later after it developed into a hard lump. 

Gum was used by Māori for cooking fires and lighting because it burns very easily. It was also had many other uses including medical remedies, for chewing gum, and the soot of burnt gum made a pigment for tattooing.


Mervyn Sterling QSM (1916-1992)

Mervyn Sterling (Merv) foundered the Museum, roundly supported by a team of community volunteers. Merv also co-founded the Old Time Transport Preservation League, the Museum of Transport & Technology (MOTAT) and helped set up Wagener Museum. It was his vision which motivated the community and his determination was rewarded as he watched the museum gain international repute from its small beginnings in 1962.

Tudor Collins (1989-1970)

The stunning work of Tudor Collins, bushman and photographer extraordinaire, is seen throughout The Kauri Museum and his photographs are of immense importance in documenting the history of the kauri and the people of the North.

A. H. Reed CBE (1875-1975)

A. H. Reed was a New Zealand publisher, author and entrepreneur, who migrated from England in 1887. The foundations of The Kauri Museum greatly benefited from Reed’s kauri gum digging experience, great expeditions and work as an author.


Hinurewa Ngahiwi Tame Kawe te Hau


Terry Moyle


Melanie Juer


Shannon Wilson


Phil Ashton


Sherry Reynolds




Dr Jason Smith 



Aaron Philips, Chris Wardle*, Yvonne Lockett*, Charlie van der Graaf*,


Ian Powell*, Ralph Poulger*



Marion Walsh


Leanne Sterling, Dianne Fowlie, Valerie Bushell, Suzanne Cooper, Donna Mackie

Admissions & Retail


Bruce Fox

Buildings & Grounds Manager

Pete Panhuis, Rose Pooley, Lyvia Fitzgerald


Sue Botica


Tristan Burch


* volunteers

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