Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


The iconic Phoenix Palms on the reserve in front of Mansion House on Kawau Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, have been deliberately poisoned.

Date:  30 June 2020

The eight palm trees, originally planted in 1950s, are either dead or dying with drill holes at their bases. Although not part of the original gardens from the 1800s, the palms have seen generations of day trippers, boaties and visitors come and go over the past 60 years.

Drill hole in trunk of tree.
Drill holes are at the base of each tree
Image: DOC

DOC staff were first aware of the issue in early March when some of the palms were showing signs of distress. But, as COVID-19 lockdown came into play, staff were unable to assess the palms until 20 May, a week after the country moved to Level 2.

DOC Ranger, Sophie Kynman-Cole, visited the island at Level 2 and noticed the state of the trees.

"This was senseless vandalism. The amenity value of the trees has served Kawau Island well for decades. The culprit has drilled substantial holes into the base of each tree and poured something like concentrated weed-killer into the holes. It's obvious we cannot save the trees."

Kawau Island was probably originally covered in kauri forests with pohutukawa on the coastal fringes. The island has been continually burnt and cleared and heavily modified from successive occupation until modern times. In the 1860s, many exotic plants and animals were introduced including wallabies, which still persist. The wallabies, along with stands of pine trees, have reduced the remnant native forest significantly.

The Department manages Kawau Island Historic Reserve, which covers about 10% of the Island and includes Mansion House and the surrounding historic gardens. The Department will assess the overall state of the Reserve to determine what might happen next.

"We need to consider other heritage values when the palms are removed and what might replace them." says Ms Kynman-Cole. 

The Phoenix Palm trees were protected under the Auckland Unitary Plan. Auckland Council have confirmed that the incident has been referred to Auckland Council's Compliance Investigations North team for action.

If anyone has any information about this act of vandalism call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) for a confidential discussion.

Background information

Phoenix palm Phoenix canariensis Canary Island date palm

  • Phoenix palms are identified as pest plants in the Auckland Regional Pest Management Strategy and are banned from sale, propagation and distribution.
  • They thrive in a variety of habitats and soil types and have male and female plants. Male palms do not produce seed, which can be spread by birds
  • They displace native trees through sheer size, and the growth of seedlings can produce an impenetrable, long-lived subcanopy.

Reserve management

  • The Mansion House gardens and plantings are included in the Auckland Unitary Plan Schedule of Historic Heritage 14.1 (Schedule ID 00586) and are subject to the Historic heritage overlay rules and policies. These rules apply to pest plant removal, biosecurity tree works and tree and vegetation removal, trimming and alteration.
  • The Department of Conservation manages the historic and recreational reserves on Kawau Island (approximately 170 hectares of the 2,000 hectares that make up Kawau Island).
  • A conservation plan guides the restoration of the house and gardens to be as they would have been in the 1860s. Structures and buildings erected in Mansion House grounds after the 1800s have been removed.
  • The knowledge is available to make the gardens historically accurate, but varieties that appeared in the catalogues of last century have been superseded by new varieties and hybrids.
  • Rather than plant inappropriate stock, donated specimens from other old gardens will be planted to eventually reflect the content of the original gardens.

COVID-19 lockdown

  • The alert level was moved back down to Level 2 at 11:59 pm on 13 May, lifting the rest of the lockdown restrictions while maintaining physical distancing and gathering size limits.


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