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26 August 2013

Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes: Ponui Island

Ponui Island - Be on the lookout for feral donkeys and brown kiwi birds
36°52’S 175°12’E

Ponui is a privately owned island located to the southeast of Waiheke Island. It also goes by the name of Chamberlin's Island as it has been farmed by the Chamberlin family since 1853. There are now three farms on the island - two managed by the Chamberlin family and one by a rich bloke by the name of John Spencer. There are around 9 permanent human inhabitants on the island who are associated with the farms, along with the famous feral Ponui donkeys and endangered brown kiwi birds.

Photo courtesy of Peter & Marion van Djik and the New Zealand Donkey & Mule Society
The Ponui donkeys are apparently descended from three original donkeys who were released on the island in the 1800s. I'm not sure if they were released intentionally or ran away when the opportunity arose (are donkeys that clever?), but in any case they are now feral. They are also becoming increasingly rare and the Ponui donkeys that have left the island don't appear to breed readily. (I'm assuming humans took them off the island. I don't think they build their own donkey boats and set off of the mainland by themselves. Or are they that clever?) The New Zealand Donkey & Mule Society is determined to keep them from dying out and has established a register for donkeys with 100% Ponui Island bloodlines. In case you have one of these rare donkeys in your back yard and you want to register it, you must be able to prove that it was born on the island or descended from pure Ponui donkey stock. Also, make sure it is light dun/white in color with a darker brown dorsal stripe. No chocolate colored or broken colored donkeys will be accepted.

If donkeys aren't really your thing, you might be more interested in the brown kiwi birds. 13 birds were released on the island in 1964 by the old New Zealand Wildlife Service. These original 13 birds came from Little Barrier Island, Waipoua in Northland and Coromandel. The birds must have really liked Ponui because there are now an estimated 1,500 of them on the island which makes up 6% of New Zealand's entire endangered brown kiwi bird population. They are doing so well, in fact, that they are reaching the maximum level of the natural carrying capacity of the island. If you're interested in finding out more about the Ponui kiwi birds, check out this article here. Alternatively, you can skip the article and look at a picture of the kiwi bird instead.

Via Department of Conservation website
And if all of this talk of donkeys and kiwi birds has driven you to drink, you're in luck! The Man O' War Vineyard on neighboring Waiheke Island makes a Pinot Gris from grapes grown on Ponui Island. They harvest the grapes and then transport them by barge to Man O' War Bay and deliver them straight to the winery from the beach.

This island is a popular location for youth camps, however, private boaties cannot land without the permission of the owners. So instead you might want to get out your binoculars and have a look from the cockpit for the feral donkeys and brown kiwis while having a glass of the local Ponui wine.

If you're interested in other posts in the "Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes" series, check out this page.

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