Fears for iconic pohutukawa in Cape Reinga

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By Peter de Graaf

The discovery of myrtle rust in Kerikeri has sparked fears for New Zealand's most sacred tree - the weather-beaten pohutukawa that clings to a cliff face at Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga).

Ngati Kuri Trust Board chairman Harry Burkhardt said his iwi had serious concerns for the tree, and was working with the Department of Conservation. Plans were being made to inspect it for signs of the fungal disease, although access to the steep, rocky site was difficult.

One of New Zealand's best known trees, the pohutukawa clinging to rocks at Cape Reinga, will be checked for signs of the deadly fungal disease myrtle rust. Photo / File
One of New Zealand's best known trees, the pohutukawa clinging to rocks at Cape Reinga, will be checked for signs of the deadly fungal disease myrtle rust. Photo / File

There were also concerns for the manuka honey industry, which the trust board and whanau were involved in and had become an important part of the Tai Tokerau economy.

Mr Burkhardt said he did not wish to be alarmist, because it was not yet clear what effect the disease would have on New Zealand members of the myrtle family. In Australia it had devastated some species and had little effect on others.

"We have teams working right up the top of the island, and they're all alert to the risk. There was an inevitability about it (myrtle rust) coming here. The question is, how do we adapt?"

Meanwhile Te Paki is home to New Zealand's rarest tree, Bartlett's rata, or rata Moehau. Rata are also potentially vulnerable to myrtle rust. All 14 Bartlett's rata on the planet are found in three stands of bush near Spirit's Bay.

Rolien Elliot, who is heading DOC's response, said the three sites had been checked by DOC staff who found no sign of the infection. Signs warned people not to enter the fenced-off areas around the trees, and DOC staff were carrying out weekly checks.

DOC's Kaitaia office was also working with Ngati Kuri to check the "special and significant" pohutukawa at Cape Reinga.

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