South of Dargaville is Matakohe, a pocket-size town with an outstanding attraction: the Matakohe Kauri Museum. The museum's intriguing collection of artifacts, tools, photographs, documents, and memorabilia traces the story of the pioneers who settled this area in the second half of the 19th century—a story interwoven with the kauri forests. The furniture and a complete kauri house are among the superb examples of craftsmanship. One of the most fascinating displays is of kauri gum, the transparent lumps of resin that form when the sticky sap of the kauri tree hardens. This gum, which was used to make varnish, can be polished to a warm, lustrous finish that looks remarkably like amber—right down to the occasional insects trapped and preserved inside—and this collection is the biggest in the world. Volunteers Hall contains a huge kauri slab running from one end of the hall to the other, and there is also a reproduction of a cabinetmaker's shop, and a chain-saw exhibit. The Steam
Saw Mill illustrates how the huge kauri logs were cut into timber. Perhaps the best display is the two-story replica of a late 1800s to early 1900s boardinghouse. Rooms are set up as they were more than 100 years ago; you can walk down the hallways and peer in at the goings-on of the era. If you like the whirring of engines, the best day to visit is Wednesday, when much of the museum's machinery is started up.