Motuihe Island
PHOTO: Seamoor | Creative Commons

Introduction

Motuihe has a varied history of Maori and European settlement, and was used for quarantine and military purposes.

Motuihe has had a varied history, which includes being extensively settled by Maori, farmed by Europeans for over a century, the site of Auckland's quarantine station for 50 years, and then a prisoner of war camp and a naval training base.

Motuihe is a taonga (treasure) with many special places. National reserves like Motuihe protect natural, historic and cultural heritage for all New Zealanders, and help safeguard the biodiversity of the planet.

The tangata whenua of Motuihe have a spiritual, cultural and historical relationship with their taonga.

Maori occupation

There was a long history of Maori settlement on Motuihe. Two pa were constructed on the island’s headlands, with one – Mangoparerua – noted as an important battle site.

Maru Iwi was the first tribe in the area before the island was conquered by Te Arawa in the 14th century. Later, Ngati Paoa held Motuihe and it was this iwi that was recognised by the Crown as the owners once European visitation to the island began.

Quarantine station

In 1872 a ship brought small-pox into Auckland harbour and Motuihe was selected by Auckland’s Board of Health as the site for a human quarantine station. It was used for this purpose again in 1918 when an influenza epidemic swept the country. Most of the markers on the island’s small cemetery relate to the illness at that time.

Count Felix von Luckner (4th from left) and fellow prisoners of war at Motuihe.
Count Felix von Luckner (4th from left) and fellow prisoners of war at Motuihe

After the Department of Agriculture was formed in 1892, an animal quarantine station was established on the mainland of Motuihe. By 1930, this had moved to Wellington’s Matiu/Somes Island.

Internment camp

During World War 1 Germans living in New Zealand and Samoa were interned in the quarantine station. Prisoners of war were also brought here. The most well known was Count Felix von Luckner. He made a daring escape from Motuihe in 1917, making it as far as the Kermadec Islands before his recapture. Von Luckner planned a second escape but before it could be carried out, the war ended.

HMNZS Tamaki naval base

At the outbreak of World War 2 the quarantine station was converted and enlarged to become HMNZS Tamaki, a naval training base and part of the coastal defence network. It continued in peacetime to be used for basic training in seamanship, fitness and discipline before moving to the North Shore in 1963.

Motuihe's iconic water tower today. Photo: A McKenzie.
Motuihe's iconic water tower today

Further reading

Bade, J. (2006) Sea Devil: Count Felix von Luckner in New Zealand & the Pacific(Steele Roberts).

Fitzgerald, E. (1958)Out of an Old Sea Chest: Felix Count Von Luckner(Methuen & Co Ltd).

Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board. (1983) The Story of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park (Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board).

Pardoe, B. (2005) The Cruise of the Sea Eagle: The Amazing True Story of Imperial Germany’s Gentleman Pirate (Lyons Press).

Thomas, L. (1928) The Sea Devil: The Story of Count Felix Von Luckner, the German War Raider(William Heinemann Ltd).

Walsh, L. (1937) Motuihi: The History of Auckland’s Lovely Marine Park (Walsh Printing Co).

Waters, S.D. (1956) The Royal New Zealand Navy (Department of Internal Affairs).

Quarantine centres and prisons

Luckner on Motuihe Island

Back to top