About Motutapu Island
Ngāi Tai Traditional Name: Te Motutapu a Taikehu (Motutapu)
Motutapu Island is located in the heart of Auckland’s Waitematā harbour and is part of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park. Motutapu is approximately 15 square kilometres in size and sits right beside Rangitoto Island, one of Aucklands youngest volcanos.
A lot of time and effort has been put in to eradicate all pests from the island to give it pest-free status. This status enables the return or re-location of some of New Zealand’s most treasured wildlife. The rare takahe and tieke, (saddleback) were released in 2011 at the official Pest-Free Celebration Event. Since then brown kiwi, popokatea (whiteheads), tuturuatu (shore plover) and two freshwater species – red fin bullies (fish) and koura (crayfish) have also been relocated. Native species have also self-introduced including the kākāriki and brown teal (pāteke) which is testament to the hard work and massive effort put into making these islands a safe place.
A reforestation project has been undertaken on small specific areas around Motutapu, as most of the island is covered in grass and wet meadows. The reforestation areas provide food and shelter to the wildlife that have been reintroduced and the wildlife that visit the island throughout the year. This project has also reintroduced many species of endemic flora and fauna.
The Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki tribal connection
The Ngāi Tai connection to Motutapu is very significant. Taikehu, a Ngāi Tai ancestor, settled on Motutapu island, following which the island became known as ‘Te Motutapu a Taikehu’ or ‘The sacred island of Taikehu’, more commonly referred to as ‘Motutapu’.
It is this kōrero (oral tradition) that makes Motutapu a highly significant wāhi tapu (sacred place) for Ngāi Tai.
During the most recent eruption of Rangitoto (approximately 600-700 years ago), those Ngāti Tai living at Motutapu were almost destroyed with only a few escaping to the mainland by waka (boat/canoe). Evidence of Taikehu’s people are graphically preserved in the volcanic ash footprints dating back to those eruptions excavated at the ‘Sunde Site’, an archaeological site on Motutapu. The prints which include both human and dog prints, were protected from erosion by a layer of ash from the next eruption. When the prints were discovered, a cast was taken and put on display at the Auckland Museum
The Motutapu Outdoor Education Centre continues to host schools and corporate groups on the island. Motutapu is also home to the largest pastoral farm in the Auckland area and has been farmed since 1840. The remnants of the WW2 Gun emplacements are still visible and offer a glimpse into war-ready New Zealand in the early 1940’s. Add to this the relocation of important New Zealand flora, fauna and wildlife within a pest free environment and you have a unique yet sustainable eco-system with the ability to grow and harvest food, safeguard native endangered species while providing opportunities for conservation activities and education to the thousands of people who visit this wonderful island every year.