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Urupukapuka is a paradise for those wanting to get back to nature. Visitors to this wildlife-friendly haven can explore to their hearts' content: walk, picnic, swim and dive or even pitch a tent and stay overnight. There are many sandy beaches throughout Urupukapuka and the waters around the island are clear allowing for particularly good diving, especially on the east coast where there is plentiful reef life.
Urupukapuka is the largest the islands in the Bay of Islands, spanning a total of 520 acres. A designated recreational reserve, the island includes a coastline of 13.5km with a number of untouched sandy beaches which make it a popular destination for day trips and longer stays.
The island also boasts a rich archaeological landscape, including 66 sites of 8 Maori pa (village), gardens and food storage pits. Walking trails criss-cross the island and take in these sites, with the longest walk totalling 5 hours. Even a short walk up the hill from Otehei Bay, however, is enough to take in the beautiful scenery as well as panoramic views across the entire Bay of Islands.
Because of Urupukapuka's rich heritage and the strong connection to tangata whenua (the people of the land), Maori place a high cultural significance on the island and maintain a close relationship with it. Maori mythology tells that Urupukapuka Island was first occupied by the people of Ngare Raumati, an ancestral Bay of Islands tribe. The many sandy beaches with easy access to headlands and room for gardening provided them an excellent place to live. In the early 19th century, a rival tribe, Ngapuhi, took over the island.
In 1839 a whaling captain named Brind claimed to have bought 150 acres on Urupukapuka from the Ngapuhi chief Rewa for one mare valued at 45 pounds – a claim which was not upheld. Later in the 1800s two European families leased some land for grazing and began to clear the island.
In 1927, American author Zane Grey began to use Otehei Bay as a fishing base. Grey was an internationally influential character, and the big game fishing and cruising activities now central to the Bay of Islands were pioneered at his Urupukapuka resort. The Crown acquired the island in 1970, and it was acknowledged as a Recreation Reserve in 1979.
Thanks to hard work by the Department of Conservation and Project Island Song, Urupukapuka is now proudly pest-free, making it an ideal home for endangered bird species including tieke (North Island saddleback) and pateke (Brown Teal). A spectacular pohutukawa forest occupies the coastal fringe, while shore birds like the New Zealand dotterel, oystercatcher, pied stilt and paradise duck all breed on the island.