Iconic trees in world-first partnership

INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP: Te Roroa Whatu Ora Trust chairman Alex Nathan seals the friendship with Japan's Yakushima Island mayor Tonao Hidaka.
INTERNATIONAL FRIENDSHIP: Te Roroa Whatu Ora Trust chairman Alex Nathan seals the friendship with Japan's Yakushima Island mayor Tonao Hidaka.

Northland has branched out to form what is believed to be a world first in an international environmental partnership involving two iconic trees with a combined age of 7000 years.

A sign and seal ceremony called the Family of Ancient Trees partnership joining Waipoua Forest's giant Kauri 2000-year-old Tane Mahuta, with Yakushima Island's Jomon Sugi cedar of 5000 years in Japan, was held at the forest on Thursday.

The signing ceremony was witnessed by almost 100 invited guests including local, national and international media.

The event included speeches by Yakushima's mayor Tonao Hidaka, Waipoua iwi Te Roroa Whatu Ora Trust chairman Alex Nathan, the two neighbouring Northland mayors; Kaipara mayor Neil Tiller and Far North mayor Wayne Brown.

Others who attended included Environment Minister Hon. Tim Grosser, Tourism New Zealand CEO George Hickton, National MP John Carter and Labour list MP Kelvin Davis.

Also in attendance was a student from Yakushima High School, who had made the trip as part of her Environmental Studies exchange.

The ceremony began with a blessing by Kaumatua Hare Paniora followed by the speeches.

Alex Nathan told the gathering that the document signing was to "signify a union between people of Northland and Yakushima through the symbol of ancient trees that have been here for so long".

Mr Nathan also said that if it wasn't for the progressing of Te Roroa's land claim settlement (last September), the environmental partnership event would not have happened. He said the potential for this partnership in global terms was virtually unlimited but forest kaitiaki (guardians) needed to proceed with caution.

"There is economic opportunities here but with respect for the environment and the unique place we have here," Mr Nathan said.

In reply, Yakushima mayor Tonao Hidaka said he was very excited and honoured to be standing next to "the great kauri".

"There is a saying 'do not belittle the Gods of the mountains and the forest, he is worth more than the mountain of money."

He said the joining of the two trees, Tane Mahuta of Waipoua and the Jomon Sugi cedar of Yakushima as being something significant for future generations in both countries.

Before the ceremony, Tourism New Zealand CEO George Hickton who has visited Yakushima Island recently, told the Dargaville and Districts News that the environmental partnership had huge significance to the Northland area and to wider New Zealand as it is believed to be a world first.

"We haven't found any other of this kind of joint understanding," Mr Hickton says.

He says the fact that Tane Mahuta is more than 2000 years old and the Sugi is believed to be around 5000 years, means these natural icons need to be protected and valued.

Tourism New Zealand has anticipated that if only five percent of the visitors to Yakushima came to see Tane Mahuta, it would have a significant impact on tourism to New Zealand and the Waipoua and Hokianga districts.

- Dargaville and Districts News