You could spend an awful long time looking for an axe buried in Whirinaki Forest Park. But come September, that’s exactly what organisers of the Whirinaki25 community event are hoping to find.
The event marks 25 years since the conclusion of one of New Zealand’s great conservation battles. On one side were the “greenies” whose vision was that the community, 45 minutes southeast of Rotorua, become a mecca for eco-tourism. On the other were those who wanted to see the continuation of selective logging and the milling industry which had sustained the development and prosperity of the remote Te Whaiti and Minginui villages.
At the heart of the issue were the giant podocarp trees; rimu, totara, matai, miro and kahikatea; one of the last remnants of Gondwanaland.
The sometimes bitter conflict attracted national, and even international, media attention with the likes of renowned botanist David Bellamy at one point joining the fray and proclaiming the Whirinaki one of the world’s great Dinosaur forests.
Ultimately the Government sided with protection for the ancient trees and a new chapter in conservation began. Twenty-five years on it is time to reflect on what has happened since those heated days.
The Whirinaki25 event from September 4-6 will provide that opportunity and also hopefully allow those who were involved to revisit the past and put their differences to rest.
Among those queued up for the weekend are Bellamy and former forest supervisor Bob Collins whose sometimes hilarious memoir of the dispute will be published to coincide with the celebrations.
The organisers concede it is a potentially fiery mix, but are confident the 25 years of water beneath the bridge will allow both to have a laugh and agree to get on with it.
Committee member Steve Brightwell says the weekend of events is about celebrating what has been achieved and looking forward to what is yet to be realised. “As part of the celebrations, it's a healthy thing that there's an acknowledgement of the past - but at the end of the day it cannot be changed and we have to look to the future.
"That's where we are certain the Whirinaki25 celebrations will come into focus - allowing all of us who love the Whirinaki to agree it is a very special and ancient place which can be both sustained by, and offer sustainable employment to, the surrounding communities for whom it has always been precious.”