aerial view the kinira island at the island of Thassos Greece

It’s only 15 kilometres from Auckland, but once you are on Motuihe Island,you feel as if you are a thousand kilometres from care.

The lucky visitor to the Hauraki Gulf Island, home to just three permanentresidents, enjoys several glorious beaches, cliff top lookouts to the Aucklandskyline and a wealth of history. For the -hectare island, which lies betweenthe volcano peak of Rangitoto and the bustle of Waiheke Island, has had achequered past.

At one end of the island a water tower stands sentinel from the time theisland served as a military training area; the graves on another point are aremnant of the great influenza epidemic of the early 20th century and it was from Motuihe island that the infamous WWIprisoner 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 wellas 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 recreationreserve as well as highlighting its entrancing history.

The island will become, Conservation Minister Chris Carter hopes, a sanctuary for native wildlife “on the doorstep ofdowntown Auckland.”

The community group, the Motuihe Trust, which was specifically set up for the restoration task in 2000, will work inpartnership 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 aspa 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 andvolunteer accommodation are planned.

Motuihe is free of mammalian pests with cats removed last year and a DOC rabbit eradication programme nearingcompletion. About 20,000 rabbits have been removed since 2002 with the last rabbit thought to have been killed sixweeks 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 NewZealand dotterel and oyster catchers live. A national dotterel census in October last year found the population on theisland had doubled since 1996.

The Motuihe Trust has already started growing and planting native trees on the island. In the past two years more than28,000 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 withrestoring 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 workto 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 survivethe onslaught of pests on mainland New Zealand,” Forest and Bird’s Northern Conservation Officer David Pattemore said.

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