28 October 2013

Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes: Motuora Island

Motuora Island - a great place to get involved in restoring native flora and fauna 
36°30'S 174°47'E

Motuora Island is an 80 hectare recreation reserve located about 5km off of Mahurangi Harbour. The island was farmed for over a hundred years and, as most of the original coastal forest and other native vegetation was cleared by Maori and European inhabitants, it is now mainly pasture. Today, the island is managed jointly by the Department of Conservation and the Motuora Restoration Society who are working to restore native flora and fauna by replanting the forest and introducing animals back onto Moturoa. Each year approximately 25,000 plants are grown and planted on the island, largely through volunteer effort. Most of the understory planting has been completed and work is now focused on infill and canopy planting, along with seed gathering, thinning out seedlings, weeding and general maintenance.

I was lucky enough to go out the island this weekend and volunteer. I spent some time repotting plants and shifted a lot of fence posts. I also got to see Kiwi ingenuity in action as everyone helped move a large plastic water tank (which had a crack in it and couldn't hold water anymore) to a new location so that it can be turned into a shed. We tipped it over on its side and then it was rolled down the path to its new site. It kind of reminded me of when Violet ate that chewing gum in Willie Wonka and turned into a giant human blueberry and the Oompa Loompas rolled her out of the room.

Lots and lots of native plants are being grown in the nurseries on the island before they are planted out. I helped repot a lot of these into larger grow bags. You can't see it in the picture, but the area behind the nursery if the territory of some dotterels and there were two cute chicks scampering about when I was there.
Motuora is one of the Hauraki Gulf's Treasure Islands, which is a conservation campaign to prevent the introduction of pests onto the islands. Moturoa is a great example of this and, despite the fact it was occupied and farmed for a long time, it does not have any rats, mice, stoats, ferrets, weasels, feral cats or other miscellaneous pests. This allows it to be used as a safe habitat for endangered species. The island has served as a creche for Northland brown kiwi birds and a number of animals have been released on the island including geckos, shore skinks, diving petrel chicks and wetapunga.

After our sausage sizzle and cuppa at lunch, one of the board members of the Motuora Restoration Society took us for a walk and showed us where the rangers and volunteers raised 70 Pycroft's petrel chicks. The birds were transferred from Red Mercury and fledged on Motuora with the hope that they will return to the island to breed after spending their first three years at sea. You can see some great pictures here of how they fed and weighed the chicks. Apparently they were fed a special diet of sardine smoothies - yum! We also walked up and had a look at the gannet colony. They have set up a bunch of gannet decoys along with speakers which play gannet calls in the hopes that this will attract gannets to nest on the island. Apparently, some of the real gannets are a bit confused and have paired up with the decoys rather than the kind of gannets they could actually have offspring with.

One of the burrows for petrel chicks. They all have numbers on them. I assume the numbering is for the volunteers' record keeping. But you never know, maybe when the original occupants of burrow #29 come back to the island to breed, they'll use that same site for their chicks.  
Given the importance of protecting theses animals and native plants, if you visit Motuora, there are a few things you should do to ensure it remains pest free.
  • Check your bags for stowaways. Did you know that rats can squeeze through a 12mm gap and mice through a 7mm gap? If you don't know metric, that is roughly the thickness of a slice of bread. That's small. So check your bags and other belonging to make sure you aren't inadvertently bringing one of these critters onto the island. And if you do find one on your boat, don't throw it overboard alive as they can swim for up to 1km and might make it to the island before you do. Other stowaways that can hide in your belongings include Argentine ants and rainbow skinks. Make sure you check for them too.
  • Clean any dirty gear and footwear, making sure you remove all soil and seeds.
  • Keep all of your food in sealed containers. No sense attracting those pesky pests onto your boat through the smell of tasty snacks.
  • Do not bring your pets onto the island. Sorry, I know they're cute, but they can cope without you while you visit the island.
Volunteering is a great way to see the island while helping out with the restoration efforts. You can also visit the island on your own and enjoy a picnic, walk, bird watching or swim off one of the sandy beaches. While there isn't much evidence of Maori occupation on the island, you can check out the pa site on the southwest end of the island. You can also stay overnight at either the campground or at the island's "bach" (Kiwi for cottage). Bookings required for either and you can find details on the DOC website. There is no ferry to the island, so you'll need to bring your own boat or arrange for a water taxi from Sandspit. (Note: It cost us NZ$20 for a round-trip ticket on the water taxi, but that may have been a special rate for the Motuora Restoration Society.)

View from Motuora Island - the tiny white specks on the Hauraki Gulf are sailboats. Labour Day weekend is the start of the boating season here and there were a lot of boaties out on the water enjoying the beautiful weather.
If you're interested in other posts in the "Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes" series, check out this page.

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  1. seems like a wonderful place...nice pictures,specially I like the last photo

    1. Thanks Amila - it is a beautiful island with some amazing views!

  2. Thanks for leaving that nice comment on my Pompeii post! I was reading your About Me section. It looks like you guys love traveling. Good luck on your upcoming travels in December. Sounds like a dream!

    Brittany Ruth


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