CLICK HERE for a map showing the location of Motuora Island in relation to Auckland.
Motuora Island is an 80 hectare island reserve in the Hauraki Gulf which is being restored to native forest. The island was cleared over many years by Maori and European occupants, and had a long history of farming. However, it is now a nature reserve, and serves as a home to native invertebrates, lizards, and birds, and also operates as a creche for baby kiwis.
In the wild 95% of kiwi chicks are killed by predators, such as stoats, rats, feral cats, and dogs. DOC has a programme run in conjunction with Auckland Zoo called Operation Nest Egg. Kiwi eggs are taken from nests in Northland, and then hatched at Auckland Zoo. The helpless baby kiwis are hand-reared for a month, and are then taken to Motuora Island, which is predator-free. They grow up there, and when they are a year old they are taken back to their original home in Northland. By this age they are quite capable of defending themselves against predators with a martial-arts force kick of their powerful legs, which can kill a stoat.
The more trees there are on the island, the better it is for the kiwis, and for all the other creatures that live there, so a bunch of humans are gradually replanting the whole island. They belong to a group called the Motuora Restoration Society, and in November 2004 they signed a Management Agreement with DOC so that the Society could take over the day-to-day managment of the island. There is a manager who lives on the island, a group of volunteers goes over on the last Sunday of every month to help out, and throughout the year DOC calls for volunteers to go over for five days. Me and some of my friends went to the island to help out the humans, catching a water taxi to the island from Sanspit.
Motuora Island was originally covered in native bush, but was gradually cleared by Maori and then European settlers. According to Maori legend, Motuora was being towed from the Bay of Islands when it ran aground on the rocks. The tow rope broke, and the island remained stuck. You can see the eye where the tow rope was attached on the southern tip of the island - it looks like a big cave. There are six recognised pa sites on the island. We went looking for them, but couldn't find any. You have to know what you are looking for. Ferhad Junior was very disappointed not to find a complete Maori house on the island. The Maori who lived there fished, and cultivated vegetables such as kumura.
Motuora's European History.
The island was first sold on November 5, 1853, to Charles Hunter Macintosh for £98. On March 8, 1860, he leased the island to the McKinstry family, and sold it to Sir George Grey on December 9, 1863 (he had bought nearby Kaway Island in 1862). In December 1880 he leased the island to John Chandler, and Englishman who came to New Zealand with his American wife, Charlotte belinda Louise. They moved to the island in about 1875, and purchased it from Grey on May 12, 1882. They lived a subsiustence life in a small kauri cottage with a little garden and domestic stock.
As they grew older they became worried about who woud look after them in their old age, as all their children had died young. It was then that they met the Emtages. George Emtage was born in Speightstown, Barbados, in the West Indies in 1860. He spent some time on a ship as a cabin boy at the age of 9, until he ended up in hospital with pneumonia. His parents didn't want him to go to sea so they kept him ashore, but at the age of 12 he ran away to sea, and arrived in New Zealand in 1874 aboard the Golden Fleece. He jumped ship with a friend, and they travelled as far as they could in a day before settling down to sleep on the banks of a river for the night. When George woke up in the morning, his "friend" had disappeared, stealing all of George's belongings. He was 14 and in a strange country with only the clothes he wore.
He took a job on a ship, and met the Chandlers when the ship called to Moturoa in 1875, when George was 15. The Chandlers liked the young man, and wanted to adopt him, but Georege didn't want to be tied down. However, he visited the Chandlers whenever he could, and they became close friends.
In 1883 george married Maude, the daughter of Captain Joseph Higgonson Ragg, on whose ship he was working. During the 1880's they ran a bakery, boarding house, and limeworks in Warkworth. In the 1900's it became known as Ragg's Temperance Hotel, and today is a craft shop on the corner of Neville and Baxter Streets. The Bakehouse is now an artshop and restaurant.
George and Maude had three children, William (1884), Joseph (1887), and Rose (1890). By now John Chandler was old and frail, and realised his wife Charlotte would outlive him. He made an agreement with George and Maude that if they looked after Charlotte after he died, he would give them the island.
George and Maude and their children moved to the island in 1892, living in a shed they called "Cobweb Hall". Captain George (he now had his Master's Ticket) supplied firewood from the island to a house in Warkworth to earn some money, and Maude had two more children, Margaret (1894) and George Junior (1896). Captain George then had to go back to sea to earn more money to feed his growing family.
John Chandler had died in November 1894 at the age of 73. Maude had another four children, Mabel (1899), John (1902), Charles (1905), and Albert (1910). The whole family moved to Warkworth in 1904, taking Mrs Chandler with them. She died in OCtober 1906 at the age of 92, and the ownership of the island passed to the Emtages. They moved back to the island in 1912, and Captain George retired from the sea. Young George Junior was only 14 when he set about farming the island with a few sheep and cows, and two horses. He grew oats, which he chaffed for the horses, and he grubbed the gorse from the island. He cleared, ploughed, and grassed 10 acres per year.
As the other children grew older they were able to help on the farm too. They made hay and butter, kept calves, pigs, and poultry, and grew pumpkins, maize, peaches, pears, apricots, figs, passionfruit, persimmons, guavas, and grapes. Captain George would catch and smoke fish, and once a week the family would travel to Warkworth on their mullet boat Manola to buy supplies, and for Mabel to attend piano lessons. Captain George would go to the wharf and sell fresh and smoked fish, eggs, fruit, and vegetables. Maude grew 17,000 onion plants in a season, that were also sold.
By 1918 George Junior was one of the biggest suppliers of cream to The Parrys Glyn Dairy Company, and eventually built a milking shed on top of the island. By 1925 they were making daily deliveries to the Rodney Co-Op Dairy Company, which involved getting up at 4.00am, rowing out to the Manola, then cruising to meet the cream launch just inside the heads. At times it was extremely difficult because of rough seas, but old Captain George was a carfeul mariner, and never had an accident as master. At sea he kept a pet lizard in his bunk, which earned its keep by eating fleas and lice. However, Captain George got rid of it when he woke up one night ti find it was trying to get into his mouth to eat his tongue!
Another pet was a bantam rooster, which once decided, most unfortunately, to roost on the gaff. When the saidl was hoisted during the night the rooster wentr with it. He held on grimly all night while the ship sailed along, until dawn came and he was spotted and rescued.
By the time Captain George retired from the sea he had served on 39 ships, including Master on nine coasters and mate on two steamers.
Old Captain George never forgot his friends John and Charlotte Chandler, and he continued to tend their graves at Te Muri until he himself grew too old. He died in 1937 at the age of 78, on his beloved island. Five of his sons, and farmhand Bruce Emms, wore navy blue suits and carried his coffin to the waters edge so that Captain George Emtage could make his final journey upriver to Warworth, where he is buried in Warkworth Cemetary.
The island passed to George Junior, who looked after his mother Maude until 1940 when she moved to live with her daughter Rose in Warkworth, where she died in 1945.
George had some interesting times on the island. One morning he came across a mullety boat that had run aground in the night. He thought it was abandoned, but when he looked in the cabin he saw three friends from Great Barrier Island, all sleeping off massive hangovers! Scotty and his mate had sold all their cargo and celebrated in style. When they had gone to sleep, Scotty's partner Maud decided to sleep to. Maud was under a prohibition order from every hotel in Auckland, so she probably wasn't the most reliable person to leave on duty - especially with alcohol to keep her company! Whenever Scotty needed to sober her up he simply threw her overboard!
On March 9, 1932 a famous round-the-world yachtsman, Erling Tambs from Norway, was shipwrecked on the island. He managed to get ashore and his wife passed their children to him, before she was hit it the head by the boom and knocked overbaord. Thankfully Albert Emtage happened to be passing by on his launch Ola and rescuded her just in time.
By the second World War it had become too difficult to farm the island. In 1937 the steamer Omana, which used to come once a week to bring stores, mail, and passengers, stopped coming, and that same year George lost Bruce Emms, his helper of nine years. Then the cream launch stopped, and dairying became impossible.
The Japanese were pressing south, and George's wife Kathleen became very nervous after the rumour of a Japanese submarine being spotted in the Hauraki Gulf was started. In 1942 George, Kathleen, and their son and daughter left the island and settled on a farm in Massey. George, however, always missed his island.
The island was leased, and then sold, to Harvey Jenkins, MP, and was managed by Bruce Emms, George's former farmhand. In 1954 it was sold again to Roger and Betty Chamberlain, who ran a guesthouse for 12 guests. They built a cottage for Snow Harris, known as "The Hermit of the Gulf" who worked as a general hand. He was a good worker - as long as they kept the meths locked away from him!
In 1966 Motuora was purchased by the Crown, and is now administered by DOC and run by the Motuora Restoration Society. In 1986 Sylvia Watson moved to the island as resident caretaker with her husband and two children, where she remained for many years. Currently there is one permanent resident on the island, David Jenkins, who leads members of the Motuora Restoration Society, and other volunteers, in the care of the plant nursery and Planting and Weeding Programmes. He also looks after the campsite and bach bookings.
The first thing we had to do when we arrived was set up camp. We animals pitched our tent right above the beach at Home Bay, where we had come ashore. We decided we's stay there for two nights, and then move our campsite to underneath a giant macrocarpa tree - for a bit of variety. The humans were staying in a bach, so we let them go off and get settled in (see photo below). It didn't take us long at all to set up our campsite. The humans said they'd be a while, so we went off to check out the island. Luckily it was low tide, so we were able to walk around most of the island. At high tide you'd get your paws or hoofs a bit wet!