Category Archives: Hauraki Gulf stories

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.

Hauraki Gulf Seabird Hotspot

The Hauraki Gulf has an extraordinary wealth of seabirds, supported by its productive marine area, diverse habitats and numerous predator free islands. Over 80 species have been seen in the region which comprises 20 per cent of the world’s total species. Of these at least 27 species breed in the wider Hauraki Gulf region.

Group of fleshfooted shearwaters off teh Mokohinaus
Group of flesh footer shearwaters off the Mokohinau Islands in the Hauraki Gulf

Seabirds spend most of their lives at sea; they only come to land to breed. Although many of the birds travel enormous distances, some to the north and eastern Pacific – to waters off Japan, Hawaii, California and Ecuador – others venturing down to the Polar Front, they return each year to breed in burrows on the Gulf’s islands.

Maria Island the Noises
Maria Island in the Noises Group is one of the many islands within the Hauraki Gulf where seabirds breed.

Historically, seabirds would have also bred on New Zealand’s mainland, but the destruction of habitats and predation by introduced animals have left the remnant populations mostly on islands. Where once seabirds brought fertility to soils, adding nutrients through the decomposition of guano and dead eggs, chicks and adults, farmers now spread fertiliser, much of it derived from seabird islands elsewhere in the Pacific.

Birders at the Mokohinau Islands
Overseas birders out at the Mokohinau Islands to view the Hauraki Gulf’s very special seabird populations.

The Hauraki Gulf’s rich seabird population attracts birders from all over the world. Threats to the seabirds include longline fishing hooks (the birds dive on the bait and get caught on the hooks), predators at breeding sites and lack of food through overfishing and depletion of fish stocks, especially bait fish.

Setting a tori line on a long line fishing boat
A longline fishing boat with a tori line set out the back at dawn to avoid seabird capture on the hooks as they are set.

Commercial fishers are adopting seabird friendly fishing methods to avoid seabird bycatch which include setting their lines at night, weighting the lines so they sink quickly and running tori lines over the top of the long line.

 

Cruising the Gulf

Many people started cruising the Hauraki Gulf in their homebuilt vessels after World War Two. The annual summer cruise became a feature of any families’ lives. Conditions on board were primitive. There was generally no standing headroom,the toilet consisted of a bucket and lighting was by a kerosene lantern. But the joy of cruising the islands more than made up for any lack of luxury.

Trimaran at Maraetai Beach
Small trimaran off Maraetai Beach getting ready to depart on the annual summer cruise during the mid 1970s. Note the lack of headroom and any toilet or galley facilities for the crew of 6 people.

The idea of building one’s own cruising boat had been popularised in the 1930s by adventurer Johnny Wray who, after losing his job in the depression, built his own boat out of scavenged materials. He used kauri logs washed up beaches for timber and fencing wire dipped in tar scraped off the road to staple the planks together. Wray sailed around the Gulf and across to the Pacific Islands. His boat Ngataki is still sailing in the Gulf, having being restored by the TIno Rawa Trust.

Boat designers Richard Hartley and Alan Wright produced boat building plans for the home builder with detailed instructions and full-sized patterns which could be cut out. Richard Hartley designed the hugely popular Hartley 16 foot trailer sailer which was promoted as being ‘For the man with limited means, who wants a boat for day-sailing and fishing with a guarantee of being home on time, this is the boat.’ 

Alan Wright Variant bilge keeled yacht at Waiheke
Alan Wright’s designs were very popular with the homebuilder including the Variant shown here beached at Waiheke Island. Wright offered plans for several variations of the boat including different keels and cabin tops which is why he called it the Variant.

Cruising is still a hugely popular activity on the Hauraki Gulf given the many sheltered bays and beautiful islands which can be visited.

Yachts anchored in West Bay Rakino Island
Cruising boats anchored off West Bay at Rakino Island.

Hauraki Gulf book in Best Books of 2016

The Story of the Hauraki Gulf features in the Listener’s Best 100 Books of 2016 and in the New Zealand Herald’s Best Books of 2016.

“It’s big, beautifully illustrated, packed with information about pretty much every aspect of the gulf, from the early Polynesian navigators who first found it to the environmental activists involved in repairing the damage done by centuries of settlement, and perhaps best of all it is full of personal stories about the individuals involved in its multi-faceted history. This is a book that, like the gulf itself, is surely destined to endure.” Jim Eagles, NZ Herald. Read full review.

“With its lovely maps and photos and prose as clear as glass, the book just kept opening up. This is a wonderful book.”  Geoff Chapple, NZ Listener. Read full review.

“This is a beautiful tribute to a stunning part of New Zealand, and one that we should all have on our shelves.” Boat Books

Story of the Hauraki Gulf 2016 cover
Cover of forthcoming book ‘The Story of the Hauraki Gulf’ showing (top) Tiritiri Matangi wharf, (left) Bean Rock Lighthouse and (right) Classic yachts Ngatira (B2) and Waitangi (A6) racing in the Waitemata Harbour.

The Story of the Hauraki Gulf is a social, cultural and environmental celebration of an extraordinary place. It brings together the many fascinating strands of history to provide a rich insight into the Gulf today and its possible future.

“I hope that the stories in this book will prompt readers to recall their own species stories of the Hauraki Gulf, and of other treasured locations. Because it is only if we remember our stories, if we tell our stories and if we act on them that we can ensure that out special places will endure.”

THE BOOK HAS A LIMITED PRINT RUN. MAKE SURE YOU DON’T MISS OUT. CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY NOW

The book, authored by Raewyn Peart from the Environmental Defence Society and published by David Bateman Ltd, is printed in high quality coffee table format with over 300 historic and contemporary images. The wonderful photos of the Hauraki Gulf highlight what an extraordinary place it is.

Classic Yacht Thelma in 2013 Auckland anniversary regatta
Classic yacht Thelma competing in the 2013 Auckland Anniversary Regatta.