Category Archives: Hauraki Gulf history

Rich history of Rākino Island

Rākino Island was ostensibly purchased from Ngāi Tai and Ngāti Paoa and others in 1840 by Scottish trader and boat-builder Thomas Maxwell. Sir George Grey purchased the island in 1862 and began building a mansion on it. However he subsequently became more enamoured with Kawau Island and moved his residence there never actually living on Rākino.

During the Waikato War, a group of Māori headed by Ihaka Takanini were interned on the island in 1863 in a place that, as a result, came to be called Māori Bay.

Fisherman Albert Sanford and his wife Ann based themselves on the island for many years and their son Gilbert farmed the island until 1946, mainly running sheep.

Rakin Island main wharf
Rakino Island main wharf area.

In 1963 the island was bought by the United People’s Organisation which planned to develop it as ‘a retreat from the rush of modern life’. There were plans to develop homes for unmarried mothers, orphans and the aged. However the initiative ran out of money and Dr Maxwell Rickard, the proponent of the scheme then offered the entire island for sale to the Auckland City Council at a price little more than what  he had paid for it. But sadly the Council declined.

Rakino Island West Bay
Yachts anchored at West Bay, Rakino Island.

Rickard then subdivided the island largely into 4 hectare lots, with 2 residential suburbs created, called Marine Park and Ocean View.

Rakino Woody Bay
Woody Bay, Rakino Island.

Leo Dromgool, the owner of North Shore Ferries, bought about two-thirds of the island at auction with ideas of turning it into a resort-type destination that he could service with his ferries. But he also got into financial difficulties and he further subdivided the land. When North Shore Ferries was purchased by George Hudson, the land was sold to help finance the commissioning of the Quick Cat ferries.

Today the island is largely privately owned and there are around 76 dwellings with approximately 15 people living full time on the island.

“You fall in love with Rākino Island. You really feel you’ve visited somewhere when you visit Rākino.”

 

 

Loss of seagrass

The Waitematā harbour was once host to enormous seagrass  (Zostera) beds which played a crucial role in providing habitat for juvenile fish. However the extensive harbour works, including port development and reclamations, had considerably reduced the seagrass beds by the 1930s. Then the remaining areas were virtually wiped out during the 1940s by an outbreak of fungal slime.

Waitemata harbour bridge
Port and waterfront development in the Waitematā harbour has contributed to the loss of extensive seagrass beds in the area.

The Tāmaki Strait was also an area with hosted seagrass beds. The steam trawler Doto, chartered by the government to do exploratory trawling in the Hauraki Gulf during 1901, found a net they hauled up after trawling along the Tāmaki Strait full of ‘grass and weeds’, indicating the extensive seagrass beds in the area.

Tamaki Strait looking from Waitawa Regeional Park
There is evidence that in 1901 there were extensive seagrass beds in the Tāmaki Strait, shown here from Waitawa Regional Park.

A major cause of seagrass loss is sediment from land development washing into the sea. When the health of a harbour or estuary deteriorates, seagrass is one of the first things to be lost. And with the seagrass beds goes part of the ability of the marine system to produce fish.

“If the sub tidal seagrass is lost, then juvenile fish production goes with it. It has a cascade effect.”

One of the few places with remaining seagrass beds in the Gulf is Huruhi Harbour at Great Mercury Island.

Huruhi Harbour, Great Mercury Island
One of the few places sub tidal seagrass beds can now be seen in the Hauraki Gulf is at Great Mercury Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The paddle steamer ‘Emu’

On 1 May 1860 an 80-foot long paddle steamer, Emu,  started to offer a regular ferry service between Devonport and the CBD. Prior to that time, North Shore residents were reliant on an open sailing ferry boat to get to the city, which had to be rowed by the passengers when winds were light.

The Emu‘s service in the Waitematā harbour was unfortunately short-lived. On 20 October 1860, she was hired by Motutapu Island owner Robert Graham to take a party of Parliamentarians to his home on the island for a picnic. Fifty-five people turned out for the event and had an exciting day, feasting on ‘turkey, chicken, duck, ham, tongues, beef,  tarts and pies’ and playing a variety of games including throwing stones at bottles, running races and leap frog.

Reid homestead, Motutapu Island-2
The Reid Homestead at Home Bay, Motutapu Island, close to where the Parliamentarians picnic was held in 1860 hosted by Robert Graham.

On the way home disaster struck when the ferry came to pick up a group who had walked back to the southern end of the island near Islington Bay. As the ferry neared land a squall hit and the vessel came to a juddering halt. Water rushed into the bilges and it was clear that Emu had hit a rock. Luckily there were no casualties but the ferry was a complete wreck.

Emu rock-2
Emu Rock off Motutapu Island was named after the steamer that struck the rock and sank in 1860.

The rock on which the steamer hit, the bay where the disaster occurred and the nearby point have all been named in memory of Auckland’s first ferry (Emu Rock, Emu Bay and Emu Point respectively).

Hunting humpback whales

Humpback whales used to regularly pass through the Hauraki Gulf during their migrations from Antarctica to the tropics and back. Whalers named them ‘humpback’ because of the way the animals arch their back before diving, which profiles the hump around their dorsal fin.

The relative abundance of whales in the Gulf led to the establishment of a shore whaling station in Whangaparapara Harbour, Great Barrier Island, in 1956. Two specially-built petrol-engined chasers, fitted out with harpoons, were used to catch the whales. The whales were then towed back to the factory and cut up into hunks to be boiled down. The oil was skimmed off the top of the liquid for sale and the solids were processed into blood and bone fertiliser. The baleen was dumped at sea. Some of the higher quality whalemeat was sold to restaurants in Auckland.

The 1960 season proved the most profitable with 135 whales caught. But then the population crashed and the whaling station was closed 2 years later.  As well as being hunted in the Gulf and elsewhere around New Zealand the whales had been targeted in Antarctica by Japanese, Russian and Norwegian factory whaling ships. The remains of the old whaling station can still be seen in Whangaparapara harbour.

Whangaparapara whaling stationIt was many years before humpback whales were seen around New Zealand’s coasts in any numbers. But now that the hunting of the whales has stopped, we are likely to see many more of these magnificent animals frequenting the Gulf again.

 

 

Disappearing Crayfish

It was not until crayfish became scare around the shores of the Hauraki Gulf that they obtained any real commercial value. Before World War Two crayfish were everywhere and could be easily harvested amongst the rocky reefs close to Auckland.

“Initially there were sacks coming off Waiheke and North Head. Fishermen didn’t need to travel to get crayfish … the problem wasn’t lack of crayfish. They were everywhere … After the war, crayfish were worth very little, something like thruppence a pound.”

Crayfish in pots
Crayfish being harvested in pots around the Red Mercury Islands. Note the generally small size of the animals, many which are under the limit and therefore have to be returned to the sea.

Then things changed. New equipment, such as echo sounders, enabled crayfishermen to  locate new reefs to target. Improved gear such as winches enabled fishermen to lift many more pots a day and larger boats enabled them to travel further afield. Once the export market opened up for live crayfish in Japan very high prices could be obtained, reaching over $80 a kilo. This incentivised continued crayfishing even when catch rates plummeted. Recreational divers also target crayfish increasing pressure on the stocks.

“Now catch rates are so poor, at only around a third of a kilo per pot, that crayfishermen are reliant on high prices to survive.”

Crayfishing out from Whitianga
Hauling a crayfish pot in fishing grounds out from Whitianga with a poor catch.

Scientific models suggest that, prior to human arrival, crayfish were the third most ecologically important benthic invertebrate group in the Hauraki Gulf. However, the impact of fishing activity since then has been so great that they are now considered to be ecologically extinct. Stocks are probably less than a quarter of their original levels.

There has been poor recruitment of crayfish into the Hauraki Gulf over the past 6 or so years, and this has exacerbated stock depletion, as a high level of fishing activity has continued during this period.

This has had flow on effects throughout the food web, as crayfish prey on sea urchins which in turn graze on kelp. When the number of crayfish in a system is reduced, the sea urchin numbers rapidly increase due to a lack of predation and they end up stripping the kelp off the rocks. This results in ‘kina barrens’ which are depauperate of reef life. This is why it is important that crayfish stocks are rebuilt to ensure healthy reef systems throughout the Hauraki Gulf.

Kina barren
A kina barren showing what happens when top predators such as crayfish and snapper are overfished, the kina explode in numbers and strip the rocks of kelp and other seaweeds.

Rangitoto baches are little gems

Some of the earliest baches in the Hauraki Gulf were constructed on the lava-strewn shores of Rangitoto Island. The island was purchased from Ngāti Paoa in 1854 primarily as a source of stone for the construction of Auckland. In 1890 the island was declared a recreational reserve. The Rangitoto Island Domain Board took over administration of the island and pursued a policy of opening up the island for pubic enjoyment. This involved the construction of a wharf on the southern side (Rangitoto Wharf) and the development of a track to the summit.

Rangitoto wharf waharoa
The first Rangitoto wharf was opened in 1897. Shown here is the new wharf which was opened in 2014 with the waharoa (customary gateway) welcoming visitors.

In 1911 the Domain Board started to lease out sites for campers in order to raise funds to cover the costs of administering the island. Eventually baches were built on the sites, with over 140 baches being built at 3 locations; adjacent to the Rangitoto Wharf, in Islington Bay and in McKenzie Bay near the Rangitoto Light. Vibrant holiday communities developed around the baches with families spending the entire summer school holidays there.

Isobel Conning (nee Simmons) remembers wonderful times at her family bach in Islington Bay before World War Two. “At night the bay would be full of yachts and launches. They were so numerous that you could almost walk across the bay on boats. Then someone, on one of the boats, would start up with a mouth organ. Someone else, in another boat, would follow. The crews would start singing and then people on the shore would join in.”

Simmons bach Rangitoto
Simmons bach in Islington Bay Rangitoto Island.

“One Islington Bay bach owner, Jock Loch, was noted for his unusual fishing methods. Wanting to fish from the comfort of his verandah he rigged up a line around a couple of pulleys, with one end attached to the outside of his house, and the other anchored in the sea. After baiting up his hooks, he would wind them down into the tide, tying a bell onto the rope, so that he would be alerted if there was a bite. He would then wind the line back up to his house, with the fish attached.”

By the 1920s there was disquiet about the impact of the baches on the island’s unique ecology. By 1937 a policy of gradually removing the baches had been adopted with owners being given 20 years to vacate and remove the structures. In 1957, when the 20 year time period had expired,  there was a reprieve when the remaining bach owners were granted a new lease for 33 years or the lifetime of the current owner. As the owners gradually reached the end of their lives, the baches started disappearing from the landscape.

Islington Bay bach and remaining infrastructure
At one time there were around 140 baches on Rangitoto Island. Now only some 34 baches remain. The empty infrastructure of vacant building sites and boat ramps can be seen around the coastline as shown here in Islington Bay.

Currently some 34 baches remain on Rangitoto Island. Rather than being seen as a blot on the landscape their historical and cultural value has now been recognised. But their future is still uncertain.

 

Prospective locations for the Auckland CBD

The location and naming of Auckland was determined by Irish sailor Captain William Hobson. Hobson had arrived in New Zealand as Lieutenant-Governor on 29 January 1840 aboard the HMS Herald. After the successful signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on 6 February, Hobson set about determining the location for the new capital of the colony.

On visiting the Waitematā harbour on the invitation of Ngāti Whatua, Hobson was very taken with a prospective location in the upper harbour in the vicinity of what is now called Hobsonville. But he suffered a crippling stroke, and returned to the Bay of Islands, before confirming a location for the capital.

Vessels moored near Herald Island
Hobson was very enamoured with the upper Waitematā harbour as the location for New Zealand’s first capital, with its sheltered deep water. The area was subsequently named Hobsonville. Herald Island (shown on the left of this image) was named after the vessel on which Hobson visited the area, the HMS Herald.

Surveyor-General Felton Mathew was then instructed by Hobson to undertake another voyage to investigate prospective locations. Mathew was very enamoured with the Panmure Basin as the location for the new capital due to the low-lying and fertile volcanic soil, an abundance of freshwater draining from Maungarei (Mount Wellington), and proximity to the Manukau Harbour portage.

Panmure Basin Auckland
The Panmure Basin was another prospective location for the Auckland CBD due to its fertile, undulating land and ample freshwater.

When Hobson returned to the Waitematā on 6 July 1840 Hobson revisited the Hobsonville and Panmure locations but concluded that neither were suitable. The land at Hobsonville had poor fertility (evidenced by the stunted ferns growing in the area), little drainage and no obvious water supply. There was also very shallow water near the shore. The one significant downside for the Panmure option was the sand bar across the mouth of the Tāmaki River which made access by large vessels difficult.

The Watchman or Sentinal Island Herne Bay
It was whilst anchored near Watchman Island (the Sentinal) that Hobson’s doctor noted the promising look of the land on the southern shore near Herne Bay. This lead to further investigation and the ultimate establishment of Auckland on the Tāmaki isthmus on 18 September 1840.

Whilst the HMS Herald was anchored in the vicinity of Herne Bay near Watchman Island, Hobson’s physician Dr Johnson commented on the inviting appearance of the land on the southern shore. After closer investigation it was determined that the land looked promising and there was a deep anchorage close by. Hobson named the new settlement Auckland in honour of his benefactor Lord Auckland who had given Hobson command of a ship after six years of being stranded ashore.

Longline Fishing in the Gulf

Longlining was introduced into the Hauraki Gulf as a method of commercial fishing in 1912. It replaced the use of single baited hooks and immediately increased catches. Longling involves setting a main line, with numerous branches lines or snoods connected to it, each containing a baited hook. Each line can hold thousands of hooks. The method was quickly adopted and is still widely used in the Hauraki Gulf. It is a labour intensive, hands-on commercial fishing method, which is targeted and can produce very high quality fish.

Longline gear
Longlining involves the use of one main line (as shown on the drum here) to which hundreds of small branch lines with hooks are attached.
longline baiting the hooks
Hooks are pre-baited and stored on boards prior to being hooked onto the longline as it runs out from the boat.

In the early 1980s a lucrative market for fresh ‘iki jime’ snapper opened up in Japan. This involved spiking the fish in the brain after capture to kill it instantly, and then putting the fish into an ice slurry to rapidly cool its temperature. This resulted in a high quality fish which fetched premium prices. Longline fishermen in the Gulf rapidly adopted the new methods, initially pioneered by Leigh Fisheries.

Longline bringing in the line
Longlining involves retrieving each fish individually. This means that a higher quality of fish can be harvested in comparison to bulk methods such as trawling and Danish seining.
Longline spiking the fish
Longline snapper are spiked in the brain immediately after capture to retain quality. Shown here is a fishermen about to use a spike on a snapper.
longline snapper in slurry
Once released from the line, the snapper are placed into an ice slurry which quickly reduces their temperature also helping to retain quality.

The fish are transported back to port on the same day, sent to the factory for packing and then quickly flown out to high value markets around the world including Australia, the USA and Europe.

Longline vessel unloading a catch at Leigh
Leigh Harbour is still a popular port for longline fishing boats. Shown here is a vessel unloading its catch into a truck for transport to the Leigh Fisheries factory in Leigh.

“Thanks to Dave Moore from Wildfish and the skipper and crew of Coral V for taking me out on a great long lining trip. I was very impressed by how hard you guys worked.”

Origin of the name Coromandel

Coromandel harbour was named after the visit of the HMS Coromandel to the harbour in June 1820. The entire peninsula now also bears the vessel’s name. The name itself originates from India, where the Coromandel was originally built, and refers to the Indian south-eastern coast.

Coromandel harbour showing oyster farms
Coromandel Harbour looking towards Whanganui Island and showing an oyster farm and moored boats.

‘Goat Island’ Marine Reserve World First

The marine reserve surrounding Goat Island near Leigh, called the Cape Rodney-Ōkakari Point Marine Reserve, was the first no-take marine reserve in the Hauraki Gulf, in New Zealand and probably in the world. It was established in 1975 after a long campaign by scientists at the Leigh marine laboratory.

The idea was first mooted in 1965 by Professor Valentine Chapman who suggested that the scientists needed a place where their scientific equipment was protected and where the fish weren’t eaten.

Leigh marine reserve from teh north
Goat Island was chosen as the site for the first marine in reserve in the Hauraki Gulf in 1975.

Chapman wrote to the then Marine Department suggesting that a marine reserve should be established. But they showed no interest in taking action on the basis that there was no legislation on the statute books enabling government to establish a reserve in the sea.

Leigh glass bottom boat
The marine reserve at Leigh attracts thousands of visitors each year and supports local business such as the glass bottom boat.

But Chapman wasn’t put off. He simply escalated the issue. He wrote to the Marine Department every month and obtained support from Ngāti Manuhiri, the Marine Sciences Association and the New Zealand Underwater Association. He also held public meetings and addressed school groups. In the end the government passed the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and created the new reserve in 1975.

The marine reserve has been an outstanding success. The abundance of fish has increased substantially and hundreds of thousands of visitors visit each year. It is a place where parents can take their children to see underwater life. It is also a great tourist attraction for visitors to New Zealand.

Bill Ballantine
The late Bill Ballantine was a fearless promoter of marine protection and he was the first Director of the Leigh Marine Laboratory.

The reserve has served as inspiration for other marine reserves around the Gulf, throughout the country and overseas. The late Bill Ballantine was a strong advocate for the reserve and he was the driving force behind the Leigh Marine Laboratory for many years.