Moturua Island has had a long association with humans from the earliest Polynesian settlers through to the early European explorers such as Cook and du Fresne.

Human history

Māori settlement

The island currently has 27 recorded archaeological sites (Central Index of New Zealand Archeological Sites, CINZAS) including headland pa, midden (food refuse), gardening sites, terraces, and pits. The density of archaeological remains indicates that prehistoric Māori thrived in this island environment. Very early midden is recorded on this island, one even containing moa bone, indicating the presence of some of New Zealand’s earliest settlers.

European explorers visited the island

Early explorer Captain Cook anchored off Moturua in 1769 and traded with Māori for food.

Three years later, French explorer Marion Du Fresne and his crew set up temporary camp on the island for three months in Wai-iti and Waipao Bay. As indicated in the “Plan Du Port Marion” of the Bay of Islands, the French set up a hospital, forge (iron working), a small tent for the officers and quarters for the guards located near a little stream (Lee 1983:20).

Due to various occurrences, relations soured as Du Fresne and some of his crew were attacked while they were fishing in Te Kuri’s cove in Manawara Bay.

The French retaliated, and Paeroa pa was sacked and burnt to the ground. It is estimated that 250 Māori warriors were killed during the battle.

A week later, the remaining French sailed out of the bay and left a claim to the land in a bottle that was buried next to the little stream in Waipao Bay.

Although the French destroyed Paeroa pa they did however map it in great detail, and this remains one of the best examples of an early post contact pa (Groube 1964).

The Navy occupied Moturua in World War II

The Navy operated a mine control station in Army Bay of Moturua in World War II as part of the coastal defence strategy for the Bay of Islands.

The remains of these structures are a mine observation post built on top of Hikurangi pa, concrete pads for the ablution blocks and barracks on the back beach flats. 

As you walk up the track to the pa there are below ground structures represented by square concrete platforms with entry hatches these were the radio rooms and ancillary room (Salmond and Reed Architects, 2004). 

DOC's work

DOC's work on Moturua Island includes:

  • Ongoing historic research
  • 'Project Island Song' - a major pest eradication and restoration programme
  • Construction of new toilets in 2009
  • Upgrade of the track around the island in 2007


Lee, J. 1983. I have named it the Bay of Islands. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. Auckland, New Zealand.

Ross, R., 1946.  New Zealand’s first capital. Department of Internal Affairs. Wellington, New Zealand.

Groube, L. Archaeology in the Bay of Islands 1964-65. Anthropology Department, University of Otago. 

Salmond and Reed Architects, 2004. Defence building structures Moturua Island, Bay of Islands, Northland. For the Department of Conservation.

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