Situated in the upper Whangarei Harbour it was home to Te Parawhau from 1700 and they today retain mana whenua over the island.
What is it about islands that I find so appealing? Certainly the fun, adventure and/or challenge in not only reaching them but also getting on to them and then discovering their unique character shaped by geology, botany and history. Thus in the last week of January I was delighted to visit Matakohe -Limestone Island and add this to my island list.
In this case there was no challenge in getting to this island aboard the MV Waipapa – just a beautiful relaxing hour-long cruise from the centre of Whangarei.
We were grateful for our seats on the top deck, catching the sea-breeze given the sapping humidity of Northland at the moment.
There are other ways to access the island including kayaking – the easiest paddle launching from Onerahi beach – but although I am a keen kayaker I relished the opportunity that Waipapa provided with its elevated view of the harbour, its bays, distant mountain rangers and mangrove and wetland communities.
The island’s maori and European history is documented well on interpretation panels housed in an attractive shelter 5 minutes walk from the wharf.
This industry provided cement for the new colonists, particularly to the building of Auckland and was mined to varying degrees till as late as 1963. At its height in 1916, 260 people were employed.
It is easy to see why this was such a significant kumara growing location with its north facing slopes
Saving the island for conservation and all to enjoy
Support the Royal Forest and Bird Society if you believe in conservation. It was only their hard lobbying over many years that this island became a scenic reserve in 1990 instead of being still available for mining or as was proposed at one point a casino, golf course and hotel.
Other conservation groups joined forces to support the venture and acknowledgement is also due to Golden Bay cement when they relinquished their mining rights and today support the restoration programme.
Island refuge for threatened species
The island is now playing an important role in providing habitat for threatened species.
Islands are still one of our best ways of providing refuge from predation and decimation: cats, weasels, possums, rats and mice that continue to wreck havoc elsewhere have all been removed rom the island, but the island is a swimmable distance for rats and stoats so permanent ongoing bait stations and trapping is required.
On Matakohe Island, kiwi, 7 lizard species (including moko skink, forest geko), banded rail and NZ dotterel have all been reintroduced following a huge effort in planting the pasture (except the pa areas).
Other shore birds have now made their home here: pied oyster catchers, reef herons, white faced herons, black shags, pied shags and many forest birds, some rare on the mainland such as fern bird have returned when the habitat they needed was able to support them.
Threatened plants are being included in the planting programme like the nationally critical native hibiscus (Hibiscus richardsonii) found in this northern part of NZ and often growing in association with seabirds
It’s always a delight to find a weta motel – these allow us to get up close to these amazing invertebrates – the tree weta was reintroduced and is thriving. Lizards are so hard to see now on the mainland so was hoping to spot one in my brief time on the island but was out of luck and time – something to keep in mind for the next visit.
Volunteers Friends of Matakohe have made a huge contribution to planting but it is having a full time ranger stationed on the island that has made the seismic shift in getting this island on the way to being another outstanding and much needed refuge for our wildlife facing extinction on the mainlands.