Discover a 'beloved island': Motuarohia in the Bay of Islands

Find out about this stunningly beautiful island's dark past and bright future.

Motuarohia means 'Beloved Island' and as its name suggests, the popularity of this spectacularly scenic island is proven by the numerous visitors it receives.

One of the inner islands of the Bay, Motuarohia offers tropical tranquillity including crystal clear waters, sandy beaches, stunning walking tracks and educational underwater trails for divers. The reserve offers good fishing opportunities on both sides of the island, while during mid to high tide the Twin Lagoons become natural swimming pools, safe for children and ideal for snorkelling.

The island is rich in both Māori and European history. The first occupation of the island was likely from the earliest Polynesian settlement periods. Prehistoric Māori thrived in the island environment and this can be seen throughout the archaeological sites.

In 1769, Captain Cook anchored the Endeavour just off the 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 conflict ending in gunfire.

From 1839 onwards, 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, he died in a boating accident, and his wife and an employee named Thomas Bull farmed the island.

Then in 1841 the island's peace was shattered by a brutal mass murder. Maketū Wharetōtara, the 17-year-old son of Ngāpuhi chief Ruhe, worked on Roberton's farm. After physical and verbal abuse by Thomas Bull and Elizabeth Roberton, he killed Bull, Roberton, her two children and another girl - granddaughter of the Ngāpuhi leader Rewa.

Maketū Wharetōtara was the first person to be legally executed in New Zealand, making Motuarohia an important part of the country's history... for all the wrong reasons.

Since then, the island has passed through private ownership many times. In 1979, the central section of the island came under the care of the Department of Conservation. DoC is carrying out pest eradication on the island as part of Project Island Song. Other conservation work includes looking after resident North Island brown kiwi and NZ dotterel nest protection during the breeding season.

Visiting Motuarohia

Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands runs daily cruises around the Bay of Islands. Island Adventurer cruises stop off at Motuarohia.

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