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