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Motuihe Island – a little known gem at Auckland’s Doorstep

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

After a brisk 15-20 knot on the wind sail along the west coast of Waiheke the obvious yet unintentional overnight anchorage was at Ocean Beach [Takutairaroa Bay] Motuihe Island, along with a sizable fleet of overnight boaties, right on dusk.

You know Auckland is in close proximity when you hear a party boat playing nightclub music at ‘good’ volume, anchored towards the southern corner of the island – although unusual, somehow it didn’t seem out of place; fortunately all went quiet around 9:00pm as they headed back tot he bright city lights.

View of Ocean Beach from the Information Kiosk

First time ashore the standout feature is the beach; fine golden sand, clear water and just people (no dogs allowed). A short walk above the eastern beach and you find yourself overlooking the western beach with approximately hundred metres separating the two. Up to the northern end there is wide open spaces for camping with good facilities (fresh water and ablutions). Many of the campers had kayaked over from the Auckland’s eastern beaches, just 4-5 NM away. Motuihe Island has had an interesting and chequered history in the sense that has gone through many changes since Te Arawa Maori first arrived by canoe. The bush was cleared for extensive gardens, before Ngati Paoa and Ngai Tai took control at the time of the colonial settlements. The island was bought by the crown in 1872 to use as a quarantine station for new arrivals to the country. The ships that carried the people back then were cramped and unhygienic. Disease was common and the settlers that were already here wanted to protect the small town of Auckland. If a ship was suspected of carrying sick passengers they all had to stay on Motuihe Island until they were cured, or died of their illness. After many months at sea some spent their last days on the island, marked by a number graves sites on the north eastern headland. How times were so different.

Remnants of the quarantine station and in the background showing the narrow isthmus between the two coasts.

During the depression Motuihe became a children’s health camp “having time away from family problems” the sign reads. After WW2 it became a major naval training camp. The Motuihe Trust formed in 2000 and together with a small army of volunteers transformed the island from years of neglect into the pest-free nature reserve it is today.

Motuihe Island – looking North from the beautiful Tieke Bush Track

The restoration underway is impressive with extensive native planting and the establishment of native bird and reptile populations from a number of breeding programmes in place. Another feature of Motuihe Island is the network of well grassed trails around the island that provide some spectacular views of Auckland and the surrounding Gulf islands. The terrain is undulating great for running or a good 2-3 hour stroll. A highlight is the Tieke Bush Track (above), which meanders through well established, and in some parts original bush stand with many massive ancient Pohutukawas. The tracks look out to the north west providing unique vistas from Rangitoto, Auckland city and around to Musick Point. The Motuihe Island wharf is currently under repair and therefore the only access – until the public ferries service resumes is by private or chartered boat.

Without doubt, mid week this gem of an island right on Auckland’s doorstep would be well worth a visit.

Snapper Bay on the east coast showing the well established trails

Motutapu, Rakino and the Noises

Vista of Auckland City and Rangitoto Island – from the Tieke Bush Track

Browns Island and Auckland City in the background.

Motuihe Island and it’s network of well established tracks

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