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Made up from remnants of a volcanic cone which has been eroded away, Moutohorā (Whale Island) is a landmark off the Whakatane coast. Through meticulous restoration, the island is now home to some of New Zealand’s most endangered indigenous species as well as impressive forests of native vegetation.
Moutohorā is a pest-free environment, allowing native flora and fauna to thrive - access is restricted to prevent fire or pests disturbing this utopia state.
Moutohorā is steeped in Maori and European history and holds numerous archaeological sites. Throughout the 1800’s business ventures – sulphur mining, rock quarrying and a whaling station - were set up and disabled again due to not being viable. Introduced feral cats, rats, goats and sheep decimated the island during the early 1900’s and what the pests didn’t ruin the fires that engulfed the troubled island finished off the destructive curve Moutohorā was on.
During the 1960’s the island began its rehabilitation and in 1965 was declared a Wildlife Refuge and pest eradication began. In 1984 the Crown purchased the island and set about restoring the island to its former glory by planting over 12,000 plants of 45 different native species. Today Moutohorā is jointly managed by Department of Conservation and local iwi Ngati Awa.
With the introduced pests eliminated, the island’s plant life quickly regenerated making a haven for a thriving population of many native bird species including - grey-faced petrels, sooty shearwater, little blue penguin, the threatened New Zealand dotterel, the boisterous tieke (North Island saddleback), kakariki and little brown kiwi. Lizards found on the island include speckled skink, copper skink and common geko. New Zealand’s very own living dinosaur – the Tuatara also resides on Moutohorā.
Get Me There
Public access is restricted due to the damage that would occur if strict bio-security measures aren’t followed. White Island Tours are privileged holders of a concession to offer visitors the opportunity to take a half day tour to Moutohorā.
Guides take visitors on a leisurely paced walk to show off all the vantage points the island has to offer. A track has been cleared that allows for an easy walk through the rejuvenated native bush of kanuka, pohutukawa and mahoe. Regular stops are made to hear guides share their knowledge on the islands residents and history.
Walking up to the ‘saddle’ provides breath-taking views of the Pacific and of White Island puffing away in the distance. Sulphur Bay reminds you that you are standing on the remnants of a volcanic cone and while not as active as its neighbouring White Island, still gives off a pungent sulphur smell and small steam vents dot the bay. The geothermal activity has given Moutohorā its very own hot water beach which our tour group took great delight in digging down to experience.
Being on Moutohorā is like taking a time warp to pre-settlement New Zealand where biological diversity could be left to do its own thing and thrive. Reviving Moutohora has provided the visitor an insight on what can be achieved when a concentrated effort on conservation is made, managed and protected.