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The New Zealand Kauri Story - Part 1:
When Gum was Gold
Surprisingly, it was Kauri gum that put the mighty tree’s unique properties on the world stage. Both economically and culturally significant to New Zealand from early on, the indigenous Maori mixed Kauri gum together with soot and fat for tattooing. They also used it for torches and fire starters - even chewing gum! The huge trees themselves were felled and intricately carved into magnificent war canoes, weapons and ornate communal buildings. Europeans arrived and quickly discovered the commercial values of Kauri timber and in particular, its golden gum or sap. Many Yugoslavs and Croatians subsequently migrated hereto become “Gum Diggers”. In 1814 the first shipment of Kauri gum was sent to London and the gum soon became gold - and one of New Zealand’s largest founding industries.
Kauri gum forms and hardens naturally to heal wounds in the tree’s bark. As the tree matures, the
gum falls to the base and over thousands of years, it remains buried in the ground - alongside the
fallen tree itself. Initially Gum diggers excavated around the bases of living trees. At the time, felled
or swamp Kauri timber had little value and was often used as firewood! Exported gum however was
highly prized and used in products such as varnish and linoleum.
From 1830 to the early 1900s, Kauri gum was one of New Zealand’s largest export industries with
exports even exceeded farming exports for a time. Between 1850 and 1950, New Zealand shipped off
more than 450,000 tons of Kauri gum, worth in excess of 25 million pounds. Sadly as a consequence,
very little Kauri gum remains in New Zealand.
Many of our Kauri tables feature gum naturally impregnated into the timber finish. It is recognized by
the yellow, white or crystalized streaks within the timber’s voids and cracks. Some even show trapped
insects - very intriging considering some of our timber is carbon dated to over 40,000 years old -
making these specimens very old indeed!
We hope you’ve enjoyed Chapter 1 of our Kauri story. We love the way our rich and beautiful Kauri
continues to enrich and influence our lives today.