Located in the Northland region
In 1979, the central section of the island came under the care of the Department of Conservation.
The island is now pest free, thanks to Project Island Song. As part of an ongoing restoration of the island, whitehead/popokotea have been released. These 'canaries of the forest' can be heard and occasionally seen across Motuarohia. Other conservation work includes looking after resident North Island brown kiwi and NZ dotterel nest protection during the breeding season.
The topography of Motuarohia ranges from steep coastal cliffs which face the open sea to the north and west, with headlands dissected by moderately steep gullies on its southern side. Flat lat surrounds a lagoon area on the southern side of Motuarohia.
There are kikuyu grass flats, kanuka/native shrub hardwood forest and extensive stands of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) with a regenerating understorey of native shrub hardwoods which are mainly hangehange and coprosoma spp. Coastal cliff communities are extensive with pohutukawa and the coastal tussock (Chionachloa bromoides). Stands of maritime pine were originally grown for the extraction of turpentine.
Extensive planting of native coastal species has resulted in native forest regeneration in areas of felled to waste pine forest on the western end of the island.
There are permanent residents on the island in at least one of the 9 dwellings on private land, and there are multiple ancillary buildings.
Public conservation land: Motuarohia Island Recreation Reserve 19.488 ha
Private land: 43.914 ha
Total Area: 63.402
Motuarohia Island features a number of archaeological sites including pa, terraces, pits, and gardening lines around the central lagoon area.
The island has a significant Māori history with occupation likely from the earliest Polynesian settlement periods. Prehistoric Māori thrived in the island environment. This is highlighted by the density of archaeological sites on Motuarohia Island. Recorded archaeological sites include pa, terraces, pits, and gardening lines around the central lagoon area on the island.
In 1769, Captain Cook anchored the Endeavour just off this island in what is now known as Cook’s Cove. Reportedly there were 200-300 Maori on the island, and he and his crew were involved in a small skirmish ending in gunfire.
Following this encounter, Cook and his crew found hospitality and plentiful supplies of food and water during the remainder of their stay in the Bay of Islands. Cook’s artist Parkinson sketched the pa at the extreme eastern end of the island. Cook had a Tahitian on board the Endeavour who could understand and converse with Māori. This was undoubtedly an advantage over other explorers to the bay.
French explorer Marion du Fresne visited this island three years later to retrieve shingle from the lagoons as ballast for his ships.
In 1839, Motuarohia became known as Roberton Island named after John Roberton, a former whaling ship captain, who purchased the island from Ngapuhi chiefs. A year later, Roberton died in a boating accident, and Mrs Roberton and a man named Thomas Bull farmed the island.
A sad story of death and retribution surrounding Roberton’s family ensued. It led to the prosecution of Wiremu Kingi Maketu – the first prosecution of an individual under New Zealand colonial law and an important part of the history of the island and the nation.
Since the tragic time of Maketu, the island has passed through private ownership many times.
Captain J. Cook on his Voyages of Discovery. Vol 1 “The voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771”. J.C Beaglehole, Haluyt Society, 1955
Lee, J. 1983. I have named it the Bay of Islands. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. Auckland, New Zealand.
Motuarohia/Roberton Island is located in the Eastern Bay of Islands.
Once out on the water from Paihia or Russell, the first island you see is Motuarohia Island, distinguished by its two glorious lagoons - the most photographed scene in the Bay.
The four main bays, Otupoho, Waipao, Mangahawea and Waiwhapuku all offer safe anchorage for visitors.