It’s only 15 kilometers from Auckland, but once you are on Motuihe Island, you feel as if you are a thousand kilometers from care.
The lucky visitor to the Hauraki Gulf Island, home to just three permanent residents, enjoys several glorious beaches, cliff top lookouts to the Auckland skyline and a wealth of history. For the -hectare island, which lies between the volcano peak of Rangitoto and the bustle of Waiheke Island, has had a chequeen past.
At one end of the island a water tower stands sentinel from the time the island served as a military training area; the graves on another point are a remnant of the great influenza epidemic of the early 20th century and it was from Motuihe island that the infamous WWI prisoner of war Count von Lucknow made his dash for freedom; he was caught at the Kermadec islands.
These days, the island is owned by the Department of Conservation and has been used most recently as a farm as well as being a recreation reserve.
Now a new ambitious 10-year project is planned to restore the island to its former glory, enhances its use as a recreation reserve as well as highlighting its entrancing history.
The island will become, Conservation Minister Chris Carter hopes, a sanctuary for native wildlife “on the doorstep of downtown Auckland.”
The community group, the Motuihe Trust, which was specifically set up for the restoration task in 2000, will work in partnership with the Department of Conservation under a restoration plan signed by the parties on Motuihe recently.
Plans for Motuihe include replanting large parts of the island with native trees, the restoration of historic features, such as pa sites, and the enhancing of existing wetland areas. Native birds, lizards and insects are to be returned to the island. Initial bird introductions, planned for later this year, are likely to include saddleback (tieke), kakariki and kiwi.
A network of walking tracks will also be built and picnic and camping areas improved. A visitor centre, museum and volantear accommodation are planned.
Motuihe is free of mammalian pests with cats removed last year and a DOC rabbit eradication programme nearing completion. About 20,000 rabbits have been removed since 2002 with the last rabbit thought to have been killed six weeks ago. Norway rats and mice were eradicated in 1997. Dogs are not permitted on the island.
Few native forest birds remain on the largely grassed island but on the island’s coasts, the nationally endangered New Zealand dotterel and oyster catchers live. A national dotterel census in October last year found the population on the island had doubled since 1996.
The Motuihe Trust has already started growing and planting native trees on the island. In the past two years more than 28,000 trees have been planted and weed control work undertaken.
Motuihe Trust Chairman John Laurence said the venture offered people a tremendous opportunity to be involved with restoring a predator free island. “We are always keen to recruit new volunteers to assist with this fantastic project.”
Environmental lobby group Forest and Bird lauded the news of the Motuihe Island project and argued for continued work to rid other Hauraki Gulf islands of pests.
“By getting rid of pests off islands we can create safe havens for native animals and plants that are struggling to survive the onslaught of pests on mainland New Zealand,” Forest and Bird’s Northern Conservation Officer David Pattemore said.