Find out what's special about Motutapu Island, how to plan a visit and be prepared.

What's special about Motutapu

Te Motutapu a Taikehu

The island's full Maori name, Te Motutapu a Taikehu, means the 'sacred island of Taikehu' and is named after the last piece of land this early Polynesian explorer saw as he left Hawaiiki. The then forested island was extensively settled by early Maori who cleared the land and built villages and fortified pa. Over 300 archaeological sites are recorded so far on the island.

Footprints preserved in volcanic ash

Motutapu is an old landform, composed of basement greywacke laid down 180-120 million years ago, then overlaid with Waitemata group sedimentary rocks. It is quite unlike its neighbour Rangitoto Island which erupted from the sea only a few hundred years ago while Maori were still living on Motutapu. At one historic site on Motutapu footprints of humans and a dog are preserved in layers of ash from Rangitoto. The eruptions eventually drove the Maori settlers from the island and destroyed most of the island's remaining forests.

Early European settlement - gentry farmers and picnic days

European settlers began farming Motutapu in the 1840s and introduced exotic animals like buffalo, emu and ostriches. The Home Bay picnic day was an annual Anniversary day event for Aucklanders around the turn of the century, with politicians and picnickers arriving by ferry for games and races.

Guns and underground batteries

During World War II guns and other military installations were built on Motutapu as part of Auckland's coastal defence system to protect the city from German and Japanese enemies of war. Remnants of these defences - underground tunnels, chambers and gunposts - are well preserved.

Community involvement in conservation

The Motutapu Restoration Trust leads the conservation work on the island. Large areas of the island have been replanted in native forest. Community tree planting days are held throughout winter and other volunteer activities are carried out year round. There are various options for school involvement in the restoration project. Contact the Motutapu Restoration Trust for more information.

From pesty to pest-free

Rangitoto and Motutapu islands were declared pest free in 2012. Since then species such as kiwi, takahe, tieke/saddleback and even native freshwater species have been reintroduced.

Planning a visit

Getting there

A 30 minute charter ferry ride from will take you from downtown Auckland to Islington Bay on Rangitoto Island, the closest access point to Motutapu Island. It is a 10 minute walk from there to Gardiner's Gap, the locality where most of the site activities in this teachers' kit are based.

For ferry timetables contact Fullers phone +64 9 367 9111 or Fullers website.

Facilities on the island

  • There are toilets near Islington Bay Wharf, Rangitoto Island.
  • There is no transport on the island unless you are staying at the Motutapu Outdoor Education Camp and have made arrangements with them or are helping with an organised planting day run by the Motutapu Restoration Trust.
  • There is no food supply or drinking water on the island. You will need to bring your own.

Motutapu Outdoor Education Camp and Lodge

Enquiries and bookings for both facilities: phone +64 9 849 5656 or Motutapu Outdoor Education Camp website.

Administered by the Motutapu Outdoor Education Trust, the camp sleeps 180 in bunkhouse accommodation. There is a resident teacher.

The Motutapu Lodge, adjacent to the education camp has 36 beds, a small conference room and kitchen.

Home Bay Campsite

This Home Bay campsite at the eastern end of the island (an hour's walk from Islington Bay) has 50 camping sites with toilets, water and barbeque facilities. Bookings are essential in summer.

Enquiries phone +64 9 445 9142.

Be prepared

What you need to bring

Good walking shoes, warm clothes and wet weather gear, sunblock, hat, food and drinking water

Safety and emergencies

There is a good network of roads and walking tracks and an open landscape with relatively easy terrain.

The ranger's house is a 10 minute walk from Gardiner's Gap (with a telephone for emergency use and first aid supplies). Phone +64 9 445 9142.

Teaching Resources

The Motutapu Super Site Teachers' Kit provides information to plan a day's programme at the Gardiner's Gap site. It includes background material on Motutapu, student activities for both site and classroom, and links and references to other resources. A section on weed invaders can be adapted to neighbourhood environments. A supplementary resource box is available on loan from the department.

DOC cannot provide staff support at the site.

Motutapu Island Map

 View the Motutapu Island regional map.

Motutapu Island map.

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