Motutaiko Island

Region: Lake Taupo
Project type: Forest
Key spokespersons: The Motutaiko Island Trust Board (established in 1971) trustees are responsible for the administration of the island on behalf of its beneficial owners.

Motutaiko Island.
Motutaiko Island

Motutaiko Island lies 3.4 kms off the south-eastern shore of Lake Taupo in the rohe of Ngati Te Rangiita, a hapu of Ngati Tuwharetoa. 

Nga Whenua Rahui involvement in supporting, funding and assistance in developing long term management strategies was sought to restore, resuscitate and protect the island’s spiritual, cultural and unique environmental legacy.


The island covers 11 hectares and is steeped in spiritual and cultural significance for the Ngati Tuwharetoa Iwi (tribe). The whole of Motutaiko Island is tapu (sacred) to the people of Ngati Tuwharetoa Iwi and is privately owned. For these reasons, landing on, visiting, swimming, or carrying out any activities on the island, without the consent of the Motutaiko Island Trustees, is forbidden.

Despite it being in the midst of a hugely popular resort area, the island is surprisingly free of mammalian pests allowing the presence of a large little shag rookery and at least one nationally endangered animal species to survive in an unaltered historically natural habitat. This is the land snail (Wainuia clarki). Additional species of significance (small scale skink) are suspected to be present.

Among the noteworthy plants are types of mistletoe (white, green and dwarf). On the mainland possums have severely impacted on their numbers and the large leafed green and white forms are ranked within the conservation category ‘gradual decline’ while the dwarf species is defined as ‘sparse’. Motutaiko Island offers a unique demonstration of how these plants live when not threatened.

Because of its prominent location in a major tourist attraction (Lake Taupo), Motutaiko is particularly vulnerable. Thousands of visitors are drawn to explore it. Not only does the fragile ecosystem suffer as a result but so to do important waahi tapu areas.


Aside from being an extraordinary ecological treasure, the island is steeped in spiritual and cultural significance for Ngati Tuwharetoa. Two major chiefs, Tamamutu (17th century) and his great-grandson Rangituamatotoru (18th century) established and used a stronghold there. Rangituamatotoru was buried on the island in a sacred cave.

Other remarkable and significant plants are a magnificent belt of pohutukawa girdling most of the island. Thought to have been introduced by Tuwharetoa ancestors centuries ago, this is a rare inland forest of what is naturally, a coastal tree. There are also two titoki trees representing the only known species of their type in the Taupo basin.

Protection work

On the instigation of Tuwharetoa Trust Board, Nga Whenua Rahui assistance was sought to establish a kawenata.

Discussions are underway to fully protect the wahi tapu areas as well as other features on the island. The burial caves have been violated and taonga removed. Tuwharetoa want to seal the cave permanently and Nga Whenua Rahui funding has been set aside for this purpose.

A previous study (DOC, 2003) outlined necessary protective measures to ensure Motutaiko not only remains in its relatively pure state but is proactively enhanced.

These include ongoing management of animal pest control, eradication of priority plant pests (wilding pines, broom, blackberry and herb Robert) and a fire protection scheme.

A key safety measure was to find a way to minimise and restrict access to the island. There are no public facilities and the owners prefer that it remain this way.

The translocation of species known to have been present historically are to be investigated for the future: the principal species being the island’s namesake, taiko or mutton bird.

The solutions are not simple. By its nature Motutaiko is a shining jewel in the middle of one of the most visited, loved and revered areas of New Zealand. Its presence beckons people to explore.

Partners in protection

With Nga Whenua Rahui support and funding, The Motutaiko Island Trust Board aims to develop and implement a full management plan which will utilise all the expertise available to it.

This will build on the strong foundations already in place for which they won a Conservation Award in 2004.

They have identified education as a key area of focus and not just for their young people but for the wider community as well. As spokeperson, Jim Maniapoto says, ‘First we need to train our mokopuna, our tamariki to take on the kaitiakitanga but we can not be exclusive. The ultimate goal is respectful, educated and protected custodianship … the island is cared for by all.’

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Find out more

Learn more

The Nature Heritage Fund aims to protect ecosystems representing the full range of natural diversity originally present in the New Zealand landscape.

The two Biodversity funds are a Government initative to enhance management of biodiversity on private land.

Learn about the programme of guidance for biodiversity protection on private land.


Contact the Kaitakawaenga
Phone: 0800 112 771