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07 October 2013

Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes: Browns Island

Browns Island - An archaeological wonderland!
36°49’S 174°53’E



Scott is an archaeologist, so he loves nothing more than looking at historic sites and really old stuff. I'm hoping that this bodes well for me as I get older. I figure each human year I age is like a century in archaeological years. That makes me well over 4,000 years old now! Archaeologists really "dig" old things, so he'll think I'm really hot once I get some more wrinkles and gray hair. At least that's how the theory goes. So this one is for you Scott - a post about the archaeological wonders of Browns Island (also known as Motukorea) in the Hauraki Gulf. You are so darn lucky to be married to me - not only am I getting old, but I write about old stuff for you.

Browns Island has been occupied for a long time by the Maori with the Ngati Tama Te Ra iwi using the island as a gardening and fishing base for at least six centuries. It is important to note that when I say a "long time", this is relative to New Zealand. Humans have only been in New Zealand from around 1250-1300 when a group of Polynesians sailed here and made it their home. Although some scholars argue that there were earlier arrivals between 50-150. Academics like to fight among themselves using scholarly articles as their weapons. Either way, if you're from other parts of the world, you may think this is really recent.

So back to the story...William Brown and John Logan Campbell bought the island from the Ngati Tama Te Ra in 1840. Brown and Campbell settled on the island and stocked it with pigs which they planned to sell to the Europeans in Auckland. Ownership of the island got a bit tricky when Apiha Te Kawau of the Ngati Whatua decided to gift the island to the Crown. Somebody forgot to tell the Crown that Brown and Campbell had already bought the island. Oops. They eventually got things sorted out. Phew. After that there were a whole series of selling and buying and transferring ownership going on between various people and groups. The end outcome is that today the Auckland City Council owns the island with it being administered by the Department of Conservation. So in the end, the government won out and the island is theirs. But their mothers raised them right so the island is actually everyone's and you can visit provided you have your own boat. There is no ferry service. You can ask us for a lift if you want. Bring snacks. Preferably freshly baked cookies. With chocolate chips.

Once you get to Browns Island, there is a lot of cool archaeological stuff to see. The archaeological landscape is considered to be outstanding due to its completeness and intactness. Archaeologists like when things are intact. It gives them more stuff to dig up. (Yes Scott, I know. You want me to point out that archaeologists are all about preserving cultural heritage and don't randomly dig up stuff. Disclaimer duly noted.) There are a lot of interesting archaeological sites that you won't always find in the greater archaeological region, including archaic middens (translation - old trash dumps), fish traps and stone structures. Here are some of the highlights:


  • Coastal midden site (R11/1100) - One of the largest on the island which indicates that most of the coast was occupied at some time or another. Moa bone was even found 20-25 cm below the surface. Moas are awesome birds. Too bad they are extinct. Or are they? Join the "Moa Preservation Society" and together we can bring them back from the dead. Scott and I are the founding members. For some reason, it hasn't really caught on yet. But with your help, that could all change. Annual membership is only $25 a year. A bargain.
  • Paa on cone (R11/39) - The term "paa" can refer to any Maori village or defensive settlement, but is usually used to refer to hill forts. The one on the cone on Browns Island is unique in the Auckland region as the settlement is entirely fortified and defended by transverse ditches and banks across the crater rim at both ends. Do you remember building forts as a kid? This one is way better. There is also another paa on the lower ridge of the cone (R11/123) and two more at the bottom (R11/124 and R11/125).
  • Other exciting Maori stuff - You can find remnants of stone garden field systems, fish traps and rock shelters on the island as well.  

If all that wasn't enough, you can also find the wrecks of old paddleboat steamers used by the Devonport Steam Ferry Company scattered about. And if you prefer flying to sailing, head up to the top of the cone and imagine the historic moment when the Barnard Brothers (the Kiwi equivalent to the Wright Brothers) made aviation history (in New Zealand at least) by flying their gliders off the slopes in 1909.

If you're interested in other posts in the "Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes" series, check out this page.

An Iron Age crouched burial from a site in England. Scott seems to have a knack for finding human remains on the sites he works on.
I wonder if this is a skill that will come in handy when we're out sailing?
This is what a day in the life of the Cynical Sailor looks like (this is from a site in Scotland).
Archaeologists think dirt and old rocks are exciting. Thankfully, they also think sailing is exciting too.



More holes and rocks. This is a drying kiln from a Roman site that Scott worked on in England.
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