View of Cape Maria van Diemen from Motuopao Island.
Image: DOC


Te Hiku/Far North islands are home to many rare plants, skinks, and a variety of sea and shore birds. The islands are strictly 'no landing zones'.

Manawatawhi  - Three Kings Island (Nature Reserve)


Purchased by the Crown from Maori owners in 1908, Manawatawhi was declared a sanctuary under the Animals Protection and Game Act in 1930.

Its status was changed to that of a Nature Reserve in 1956 for the preservation of flora and fauna, and is now managed by the Department of Conservation.


Before 1810 and again in the 1870s, whalers released goats and pigs onto Great Island as a source of food for passing ships. This had a profound effect on Manawatawhi and its plant life, with some plant populations coming close to extinction.

The rarest of them all was reduced to one individual, a small tree Pennantia baylisiana, and Tecomanthe speciosa, a large tree vine. In response to this, the islands became the centre of the Tecomanthe and Pennantia recovery programme in 2005.


There is a wide variety of sea and land bird species including the northernmost population of Pacific Albatross. Seabirds range from fluttering shearwater (Puffinus gavia), grey-faced petrel (Pterodroma macroptera gouldii) to the red-billed gull (Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus). There are tens of thousands of breeding pairs on the islands, with the highest numbers found on Great Island.

Manawatawhi is also a stronghold for a large Australasian gannet (Morus serrator) colony, with breeding colonies on South West Island. Black-winged petrels are also common, with an estimated 5,000 pairs nesting on Great Island, and smaller numbers on North East, South West and West Island.

Over the summer and autumn months, flocks of grey ternlets (Procelsterna cerulea) containing up to 200 birds are commonly present on Manawatawhi.


Here there are six species of lizard, including a large endemic skink Oligosoma fallai and an endemic gecko Hoplodactylus aff. pacificus. Great Island has the largest number of lizard species (six species), followed by North East and South West islands (five species each), with West Island being home to four species of lizards.

Invertebrates, spiders and snails

Manawatawhi is a sanctuary for invertebrates, spiders and snails. The giant centipede Cormocephalus rubriceps, also found on the mainland, grow larger (arond 240 mm in length) and more abundant on Manawatawhi.

Ten of 38 species of landsnails found on Manawatawhi are found only on Great Island and nowhere else in the world.

Manawatawhi is also home to many species of stick insect, weta, and spiders.

Simmonds Islands 


Simmonds Islands are comprised of Motu Puruhi Island and Terakautuhaka Island. The islands are home to a variety of sea and shore birds, and passerine species. Of particular note is the presence of breeding Bullers shearwaters, which until discovered in 1990, were only known to breed on the Poor Knights Islands.

Other native bird species nesting on Simmonds Islands include white fronted tern, fluttering shearwater, little blue penguin, and grey-faced petrels.

Reef heron, Caspian tern, black-winged petrel and the pied shag have also been recorded on the islands.


Coastal forest is dominated by tawapou, with occasional mahoe, houpara and karo. Shrubland is present near coastal edges made up of ti kouka, coprosma macrocarpa, hangehange, harakeke, and toetoe. The islands are also an important site for glasswort turf and pohutukawa.

Unfortunately, there are several exotic weed species present on the islands, most notable of these is wandering willie.

Reptiles and snails

Simmonds Islands are home to the shore skink (Leiolopisma smithi), which is present in quite large numbers.

The giant landsnail Placostylus ambagiosus keenorum was released onto the islands by the Wildlife Service in 1984. However visits following that transfer have failed to find any still existing on the islands.

Taranga Island

Taranga Island is the largest and most diverse island within the Taranga Ecological District. The indigenous flora is representative of northern New Zealand prior to European colonisation.

It is ranked as internationally important with the highest local ranking due to the presence of rare and endangered fauna and flora and local endemics

Historic significance

The island has extensive historical features associated with the Ngatiwai people. While there are few signs of fortifications, stone faced terracing, platforms and extensive agricultural evidence in the form of stone rows, mounds, and walls are present.

The island holds spiritual significance to the Tangata Whenua of Ngatiwai.


Taranga Island is bush-clad – mostly coastal broadleaf forest, dominated by pohutukawa, kohekohe, puriri, karaka, taraire, tawa, tawapo and puka. There is kanuka and rewarewa in areas modified by previous Maori occupation.

There are several threatened and at-risk plants present.


Species include little spotted kiwi, red crowned parakeet/kākāriki, kākā, pycroft petrel, bellbird/korimako, New Zealand pigeon/kūkupa, and saddleback/tīeke. Taranga was the only place tīeke existed when European arrived. Little spotted kiwi were introduced in the 1990s.

Reptiles and snails

There are a number of lizards including tuatara. Shore, copper, egg laying, ornate and northern brown skinks are present, as well as Pacific and Duvaucel's geckos.

64 native land snail species, two of them carnivorous, and one endemic land snail, Amborhytida tarangaensis, inhabit Taranga Island.

Motuopao Island Nature Reserve

Motuopao (also Motuopau or Motu Opou) Island is 200 m off the tip of Cape Maria Van Diemen in the Far North.

Motuopao is strictly a ‘no landing zone’. The only visitors are DOC staff, iwi, and researchers. The public cannot visit Motuopao Island Nature Reserve.

Motuopao Island is an important refuge for threatened species once common on the mainland such as pupuharakeke (flax snail) and many seabirds. Removal of environmental damaging weeds is an ongoing project for DOC as well as active monitoring to ensure rodents and other pest plants and animals do not invade the island.


Motuopao is home to substantial breeding populations of black-winged petrel and common diving petrel.

Six species of breeding petrels have been recorded on Motuopao, including grey-faced petrels  white-faced storm petrels (Pelagodroma marina), sooty shearwaters, and fluttering shearwate. Almost all of these species were once common on the mainland.


Motuopao was a manned lighthouse station between 1879 and 1940 and during this period was grazed by sheep. In 1989, DOC eradicated kiore and in 1997 it started controlling weeds including Madeira vine, smilax (Asparagus asparagoides) and Gladiolus cardinalis, wallflower, and tree mallow.

Weed control was initiated to control the spread of the remaining garden plants (introduced during the lighthouse period) and to remove ecosystem impacting plants before restoration of native habitats.


Motuopao is home to three skinks; Smith’s skink (Leiolopisma smithi), Moco skink (L. moco) and Suter’s skink (L.suteri). Pacific geckos (Hoplodactylus pacificus) have also been recorded on the northern side of the island.


Native plants and animals on the New Zealand mainland face constant battle for survival against nasty introduced pests, including mice, rats, ants, and stoats.

Motuopao has none of these pests. For this reason, Motuopao is strictly a ‘no landing zone’. The only visitors are DOC staff, iwi and researchers undertaking approved weed control, historic management activities, including the preservation of the lighthouse structure and settlement, and plant and animal work.


Motuopao (also Motuopau or Motu Opou) Island is located 200m off the tip of Cape Maria Van Diemen in the Far North, and is visible from Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga).

The island comprises of two 118 m tall basaltic stacks covered in sand with a saddle valley that runs in an east and west direction. The island is frequently windswept by strong south-westerlies and access to the island is difficult due to the swells and 5-10 knot currents in the channel between Motuopao Island and Cape Maria van Diemen.

Motuopao Lighthouse

Following the realisation in the 1870s that New Zealand needed a network of lighthouses to protect shipping from natural hazards, Motuopao was chosen as the site best suited as the location of a light to protect shipping using the dangerous waters at the northern tip of the country.

A lighthouse settlement was established in the early 1880s with three families of lighthouse keepers. The wooden lighthouse structure was built on a concrete base at the northern end of the island. Despite its close proximity to the mainland the 200 m of water was extremely dangerous with very strong currents and unexpected wave surges resulting in the drownings of at least two of the islands inhabitants.

By the beginning of WWII, the Marine Department had decided that the light was in the wrong location, so in 1941 the glasshouse and light mechanism on top of the lighthouse were removed and re-erected on a concrete base at the new lighthouse settlement six kilometres to the east at Cape Reinga.

Managing the industrial archaeology of Motuopao

The remains of the lighthouse settlement are relatively undisturbed. The features were first recorded as archaeological sites in the 1980s by Wynn Spring-Rice for the Lands & Survey Department. Spring-Rice mapped the foundations of the three keepers houses (which had been dismantled and removed in the 1950s), the flying fox mechanism used to get supplies to the island, the concrete base for the gantry, assorted smaller wooden structures and the wooden tower of the original light on the islands highest point.

The lighthouse tower is the most prominent structure on the island. It requires maintenance from time to time. This is usually done as part of the yearly weeding trip by DOC staff. Although much of the kauri and Australian ironwood structural framing and exterior cladding are in good condition, the attaching nails have been severely degraded in the salt-rich environment and consequently parts of the exterior cladding fall away from time to time. In addition, the removal of the light and protective glasshouse in the 1940s exposed the interior to the weathering elements. In particular, it allowed rain to enter the structure at the top and pond in the concrete basement and so accelerated the rot in some of the wood framing.

Heritage architect Dave Pearson produced remedial plans and to-date work has involved the construction of a protective roof 'cap' to weatherproof the interior and the reinstatement of some cladding.

Engineers plan to strengthen the base of the lighthouse. The remaining ruins associated with the lighthouse settlement have been mapped and recorded so that other DOC management activities on the island do not interfere with the historic heritage.

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