23 December 2013

Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes: Motutapu Island

Motutapu Island - a lovely place to anchor up and go for a walk in pastoral landscapes and replanted bush
36°45′S 174°55′E

Pohutukawa trees on Motutapu starting to blossom in November.
Their red blossoms over the holiday period are why they are sometimes called the Kiwi Christmas tree.
Motutapu (Sacred) Island is a very popular place with local boaties as it is relatively close to Auckland and has some great walks and beaches to enjoy. It is also connected to neighboring Rangitoto Island by a causeway which means you can easily explore both islands while you're out there. If you don't have a boat, both Motutapu and Rangitoto have regular ferry service from Auckland and they're often teeming with day trippers on the weekends. The islands provide a real visual contrast sitting next to each other with Rangitoto being a younger volcanic island which erupted around 1400 CE. Compared to Rangitoto's rugged landscape and steep volcanic peak, Motutapu has a lower profile, is mostly pasture and has gently rolling hills. Motutapu was settled by Maori around mid-1300 CE and they would have experienced the eruption of Rangitoto and watched their island covered in volcanic ash.

Motutapu is a 1509 hectare recreation reserve administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Part of the reserve is leased out as pest-free farmland with around 3,500 sheep and 1,000 cattle roaming around. So when you go for walks on the island, sometimes you have to play dodge the droppings. It keeps you alert and on your toes though. Literally on your toes when you look down and notice you're about to step in something. Although you might think that allowing pastoral activity on one of the Hauraki Gulf islands isn't ideal, it actually has several benefits. By munching their way around the island, the sheep and cows are protecting the archaeological sites from regrowth and damage from roots. They also help keep weeds from spreading. And the military sites on the island can't be replanted with native plants, so pastoralism is a great way to maintain these sites for everyone to enjoy.

The other tenant on the island is the Outdoor Education Camp. When the WWII Artillery Camp was decommissioned it was handed over to be used by Kiwi youth and an outdoor education camp was established in 1966. It is located in Administration Bay on the northern shore of the island and you can see lots of energetic young people doing things like climbing poles, building rafts, doing rope courses and that type of thing. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

But if you're energetic, like these youngsters, then you might want to do some tramping on the island. If you're starting out from Home Bay (where the ferry service goes to), then you can walk from there to Northern Junction which is near some of the WWII site (approx. 2km). From Northern Junction, you can carry on for another 3.3 kms to Billy Goat Point at the northern tip of the island via the Wetland track across farmland. You can also access Mullet, Station, Waikarapupu and Sandy Bays from this track. If you have your own boat, these are great bays to anchor up in and enjoy the views.

Alternatively, you could try out the Motutapu Walkway which connects Home Bay to Islington Bay. Islington Bay is an extremely popular anchorage with yachties and well worth a visit. Because it lies between Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands it gives you options as to which one you want to explore, if you don't have time to do both. The Motutapu Walkway is 4.2 kms one way and goes through farmland. Follow the poles as you go. There are some great vantage points along the way and you can see areas of native bush that have been replanted.

If you enjoy the Hauraki Gulf and are looking for a way to give something back, the Motutapu Restoration Trust is doing some great conservation work and have regularly scheduled volunteer days. Their restoration efforts help protect the world's largest pohutukawa forest (the Kiwi Chrismas tree) and native wildlife and plants. I went and helped out last month and spent several hours weeding the evil moth plant. The regular volunteers and members of the Trust are very knowledgeable, educate you on their conservation efforts and take you to parts of the island you might not normally find yourself. Well worth checking out and getting involved in.

You can find additional information and some useful maps of Motutapu, Rangitoto and the Hauraki Gulf at the Outdoor Education Camp site here, on the DOC site here and on the Motutapu Restoration Trust site here.

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

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Some of the cows on Motutapu. They're watching to see if you step in their cow patties. If you do, they giggle to each other. It sounds like they are saying, "Moo, moo, moo" but really they're saying, "Silly hoooman, silly hooman, silly hooman"

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