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11 November 2013

Hauraki Gulf Cruising Notes: Kaitu Kala Islands

The Kaitu Kala Islands - Sibling rivalry over copper, a ship wreck and plenty of gulls. What more could you possibly want.
36°28'S 174°48'E

The Kaitu Kala Islands are located to the south of Kawau Island and north-east of Mahurangi Harbour.
Via Land Information New Zealand - Crown Copyright Reserved.
You know how it is, sometimes little sisters get so often overlooked. Kawau Island is such a popular anchorage and day-trip from the mainland (and rightfully so), that sometimes the smaller, neighboring Kaitu Kala Islands get overlooked. But not to worry, I'm here to put that right. All you little sisters out there can thank me. So here we go. There are three islands that are part of this grouping:
  • Motuketekete (Food Basket) Island
  • Moturekareka (Pleasant) Island
  • Motutara (Gull) Island
I've seen a fourth island mentioned, Kohatutara, which joins up to Moturekareka and Motutara Islands during low tide, but don't see it on the chart above. Not sure what that's about, but I'll go with what the chart says.

I first came across mention of Motuketekete Island on the very informative Timespanner website (great resource if you're interested in the history of Auckland). Turns out there was a bit of tension between Motuketekete and Kawau Island in the mid-1800s over the issue of copper mining. Kind of like when brothers and sisters fight. Copper was discovered on Kawau by accident when they were looking to extract manganese. Copper mining operations were established in 1844 and ran until 1852 with two rival companies working the same body of ore on Kawau Island. The two chaps who headed up the rival copper mining operation (Frederick Whittaker and Theophilus Heale) encountered quite a bit of hostility from the existing outfit on the island. They were told that their miners couldn't sleep on Kawau Island at night so they had to ferry them back and forth from Motuketekete Island (which they bought in 1850). Seem a bit churlish to me, but when money is involved then sometimes people aren't on their best behavior. At the height of the mining, there were over 300 folk living on Kawau with mining villages at Mansion House, Two House Bay, Sunny Bay, Schoolhouse Bay, Dispute Cove and Miners Bay.


Heale & Whittaker - courtesy of Timespanner 

In an attempt to make it easier to ship the ore to the Northern Hemisphere, two copper smelting houses were built - one on Motuketekete and one on Kawau. Unfortunately, the copper ore became increasingly difficult to extract as they had to constantly pump out water from the mine workings. Eventually, the copper ore was all tapped out and the mining operations shut down. It must have been profitable when they were operating, however, as a report from the Southern Cross in 1852 reports that on Captain Heale's Island (or Motuketekete), "The puff puff of the engine of a smelting furnace apprised us that the hand of the diligent maketh rich." And it looks like Heale and Whittaker didn't do too badly out of their purchase of Motuketekete either. They originally bought the title for ₤59, or a pound per acre, and sold it in 1855 for ₤100. The island has since changed hands a few time and is now in private ownership.

You can find more information about Kawau Island and copper mining at the Department of Conservation's website. While you can't land on Motuketekete, you can check out the remains of the mining on Kawau Island - both in the main historic reserve and at the smaller Smelting House Historic Reserve on the north side of Bon Accord Harbour.


1880 map of Keta Keta Island (now known as Motuketekete Island) from when it was sold for ₤140 to a Matakana farmer.
From deed 64125, LINZ records, Crown Copyright. Courtesy of Timespanner.
Motuketekete isn't the only interesting island in the Kaitu Kala grouping. If you like shipwrecks, you can check out the Rewa just across the Blanche Channel and off the north-western side of Moturekareka Island. The Rewa began life in 1889 as the Alice A. Leigh, a 3,000 ton four-masted steel barque built in Cumbria in the UK. She ran the typical routes of large four-masters at the time taking cargo from India and Australia to London and the Pacific coast of North America. She was sold in 1921 to a group of New Zealand businessmen and renamed the Rewa. At that time she became the largest registered sailing ship in New Zealand. She continued to sail until 1922 when steam vessels became dominant. For eight years, she stayed off of Northcote Point in Auckland and eventually was towed off to Moturekareka in the mid-1930s and scuttled there. Today, she is a local attraction for boaties. You can find out more about Rewa's fascinating history by reading Phil Braithwaite's post here.


The Rewa today. Courtesy of Peter Tasker - check out his other great photos of the Hauraki Gulf here


And, yes, I promised you gulls. If you go to the third Kaitu Kala island, you'll find plenty of gulls. It is called Motutara or Gull Island. The name kind of gives it away. You can find the remains of an old wharf on the island and see lots of white fronted terns (or kahawai) hanging about. Motutara was once quarried in the 1930s for construction in Auckland. Nowadays, it is a peaceful spot for a picnic on the sandy beach.

So there you go, there is far more to see in the area than just Kawau Island. Next time you're in the area, make time to stop and explore the Kaitu Kala islands.

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

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