Motukorea: The Island of the Oystercatcher

With its smooth undulating hills, Browns Island (Motukorea) may look less significant than other Hauraki Gulf islands, but it has an intriguing history.

Sitting south of Rangitoto and north of East Auckland’s Musick Point, it is one of the best preserved volcanoes in the Auckland Volcanic Field, having erupted somewhere between 10,000-20,000 years ago.

Early history

In pre-European times Motukorea was occupied by Māori, mainly the Ngāti Tamaterā iwi or tribe.  Many artefacts have been found there including the remains of both open and fortified settlements and evidence of stone working, fishing and gardening.

It was a key strategic stronghold as it sits at the mouth of the Tamaki River and controlled access along the river and through to the Manukau Harbour.

The island’s name in Māori name means ‘island of the oystercatcher’, showing these shore birds were just as numerous in early days as they are now.

Arrival of the Europeans

Early European settlers began visiting as early as 1820, including the missionary Samuel Marsden. By 1827 it had been abandoned by Māori, according to the French explorer Dumont D’Urville who visited and found no signs of life.

Ngāti Tamaterā leaders sold the island in 1840 to two prominent settlers, William Brown and Sir John Logan Campbell. They named it Browns Island and together set up homesteads and a pig farm there. Brown later sold his share to Campbell, who sold the island on in 1879 to another family.

Ferries, Gliders and Salvation

The twentieth century saw Motukorea continue to change hands. In 1906 it was sold to the Devonport Steam Ferry Company, who operated a ferry service bringing picnickers there on day trips for many years. They abandoned several coal-powered paddle steamer ships off one end of the island, the wrecks of which can still be seen today.

In 1909 Motukorea was host to a little slice of aviation history when the Barnard brothers operated what were believe to be New Zealand’s first glider flights from the upper slopes of the island’s cone.

Disaster almost struck in 1946 when the island was purchased by the Auckland Metropolitan Drainage Board, who planned to build a sewerage treatment plant. Luckily the Auckland public had plenty to say about this idea and the idea was abandoned.

Perhaps mindful of this misguided idea, the brewery baron, politician and philanthropist Sir Ernest Davis rescued the island for good – in 1955 he bought it and presented it as a gift to the people of Auckland.

Pest-free paradise

Today Motukorea is still owned by Auckland Council on behalf of all Aucklanders, and managed by the Department of Conservation as part of its administration of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park.

Thanks to DOC’s hard work it is now a pest-free island, home to the New Zealand dotterel and some rare native plants, but mainly covered in long grass.

Boaties and kayakers enjoy a trip out to Motukorea, and nature enthusiasts can enjoy the walking track leading up to its summit, where they can marvel at its impressive scoria cone and deep crater.

With its long and varied history, Motukorea is considered a taonga (treasure) by Māori – a place for everyone to enjoy and protect.

Hauraki Blue Cruises offers overnight and charter cruises in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf. 

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