A method and apparatus for growing low defect, optically transparent, colorless, crack-free, substantially flat, single crystal Group III nitride epitaxial layers with a thickness of at least 10 microns is provided. These layers can be grown on large area substrates comprised of Si, SiC, sapphire, GaN, AlN, GaAs, AlGaN and others. In one aspect, the crack-free Group III nitride layers are grown using a modified HVPE technique. If desired, the shape and the stress of Group III nitride layers can be controlled, thus allowing concave, convex and flat layers to be controllably grown. After the growth of the Group III nitride layer is complete, the substrate can be removed and the freestanding Group III nitride layer used as a seed for the growth of a boule of Group III nitride material. The boule can be sliced into individual wafers for use in the fabrication of a variety of semiconductor structures (e.g., HEMTs, LEDs, etc.).