Living in Auckland and having the Hauraki Gulf right at the doorstep, soon you’ll either belong to the Auckland crowd that spends their weekends on fancy Waiheke Island with all its vineyards, boutiques, sailing marinas, or you’re heading out to climb up to the crater of Rangitoto, or you don’t bother about the islands at all and spend your time on one of the many beaches around the city’s edges to the shore. 

I really like Rangitoto Island, one of the many volcanoes in the vast Auckland volcanic field and with only 600 years old, a scarily young one altogether. But I’m in love with Rangitoto’s older twin: connected through a tiny wooden bridge, you can walk from Rangitoto to Motutapu Island. Motutapu, with 178 million years of age, is fairly older than Rangitoto, though! In fact, it’s one of the oldest landmasses in the gulf that shelters Auckland from the vastness of the South Pacific. 

Rangitoto is rugged, raw, dense vegetation covering most, but not all of the sharp edges of the dark lava rock. The very moment you step on Motutapu, the feel is very different: Motutapu is a 15 sqm mass of rolling hills, farmland that is still (better: again) cultivated by the local iwi (Māori tribe), some windswept trees and some fine beaches and bays to go for a swim or to sit and enjoy being away from the world. But it is more than that: the island saw some history. Māori intensively settled it; it saw massive Victorian picnic parties after the island fell into the ownership of European settlers in 1840 by being leased and eventually sold by Māori, and it was a substantial strategic base during WWII. Today, in Home Bay, you can visit an old homestead and learn more about settler history, or walking up the hill from the campsite near the homestead, you can see the concrete remnants of a counter-bombardment battery. The US Navy intended to use Auckland as a staging point into the Pacific. All long gone. Not so the peacefully grazing cattle bred on the island by the iwi. Also, occasionally you see a jeep of DOC (Department of Conservation) driving slowly towards you, the friendly rangers always up for stopping by for a quick chat in sometimes heavy kiwi accent I still struggle to fully understand. 

Recently, I had the privilege to stay with a group of friends in one of the historic ‘baches’ (an old Welsh word meaning ‘tiny’ or ‘small’; used to describe an old hut) on Rangitoto near the narrow bridge between the two islands. The islands are only an approximately 35-minute ride with a ferry away from the city, bringing you to a different world. On the ferry, I conversed with a group of volunteers headed out to plant trees on the east side of Motutapu for reforestation. They said only a few decades back, the islands were swamped with day trippers. For the sake of the sensitive ecosystem, it was rolled back. Today, the Motutapu Restoration Trust aims to be actively involved in the island’s conservation and to understand better and appreciate heritage values. 

So, spending the weekend in an old rustic bach was very special and like a trip back in time. Seeing the southern sky at night time so clearly and undisturbed by artificial light is exciting. Of course, during the day, we went on numerous walks on both islands, and we got to experience the amazing bird life of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Many of the country’s native birds are flightless and nest on the ground. Introduced rodents and critters such as rats, possums, and martens threaten NZ’s birds. But both islands are pest-free thanks to the continuous work of DOC and strict controls by biosecurity before entering the ferry. 

So, on the islands, birds are plentiful: takahēs, tuis, pukekos, makomakos, tieke, kotare, pīwakawakas, wekas, kākāriki …  Although I have never really been into birds, I began to find some interest in them and their extraordinary and unique bird songs. 

On Motutapu, I especially love the light in the afternoon. The green hills are flooded with golden sunlight, you can spot the Coromandel Peninsula in the distance, the tip of the Skytower, Auckland’s famous landmark, barely peaks over Rangitoto’s crater, and the ocean glitters away in a perfect combination of silver and the darkest blue. When lucky, one could spot some stingrays darting through the shallow waters of the bays in low tide. 

Motutapu, not too long, and I will come back. Next time, I will be one of the people planting trees. 


Exploring the world and myself by two feet.

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