Motutapu Island, Auckland

Motutapu Island, Auckland

Motutapu Island has witnessed eruptions, aggressive farming, countless visitors, and animals introduced from far-flung lands.

When Rangitoto Island emerged from the sea 600-odd years ago—blasting lava and ash—Maori frantically paddled away from the adjacent Motutapu Island.

They’d been living on this island for generations. In fact, it was one of the earliest Maori settlement sites in New Zealand.

For Motutaupo’s iwi, Rangitoto’s eruption had its pros and cons. It destroyed their villages and gardens, but it also made the soil much more fertile and it wasn’t difficult to resettle there soon after.

Motutapu Island is an archaeologist’s dream. Forever preserved in volcanic ash, the footprints of adults and children are visible, and there is even evidence of a dog licking a puddle.

Their existence proves some Maori returned to the island between Rangitoto’s volcanic belches. There are at least 300 historic sites on Motutapu, including the remains of several pa sites—complete with cooking areas, gnawed animal bones and tools.

After 1840, Maori began selling parts of the Motutapu Island to Europeans. In 1857, a politician named Robert Graham gained ownership of the entire island and turned most of it into pasture.

He also introduced exotic animals such as emu, deer, buffalo, ostriches and wallabies. A visitor attraction in the 1860s, hunters and picnickers would boat over from the mainland.

A Scottish family called Reid bought the island next. Visitors continued to come to the island in droves. It was so popular, that in 1903, ten steamers took a reported 14,000 people to Home Bay—a phenomenal number considering this was at the turn of the last century.

During WWII, Motutapu played a big part in Auckland’s coastal defence. A thousand people were based there to help defend Auckland from what was considered serious threat of attack.

In 1936, a gun battery was built and searchlights, observation posts and bunkers were also added. The island’s barracks are now used as part of an outdoor education camp.

Motutapu is currently in the middle of a 50-year project to restore and conserve the island.

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