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.”



Juvenile snapper have an ‘ecological bottleneck’

Scientists have identified an ‘ecological bottleneck’ in the ability of juvenile snapper to survive into adulthood. Research has shown that young snapper prefer three-dimensional habitats on the seafloor, particularly seagrass meadows but also horse mussel and sponge beds. It is not known why these areas are preferred, but it is thought that they provide a good source of food, protection from predators and shelter from seawater currents (reducing the need to expend energy to swim against them).

Seagrass Cavalli Islands
Seagrass meadows provide important habitat for juvenile snapper and other small fish and increase their changes of surviving into adulthood.

If there is not sufficient area of these habitats available, particularly in places close to important spawning areas, then this creates an ‘ecological bottleneck’ and the survival rate of juvenile snapper is likely to be lower. This has a flow on effect for fish stocks as it reduces the number of snapper that are recruited into the fishable adult population.

In the Hauraki Gulf, the majority of these habitats have been lost over the past 170 years, through a combination of increased levels of sediment and other pollutants entering the marine area from land, and direct damage from reclamation, harbour works, trawling and dredging. Habitat loss is still occurring in important fish nursery areas such as the Mahurangi Harbour.

Mahurangi Harbour
Habitat of importance to juvenile fish is still being lost in the Mahurangi Harbour, as a result of high levels of sediment coming from the land, including horse mussel beds.

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).

Snapper at risk?

Snapper is the predominant fish species in the Hauraki Gulf and it is also one of the most widely studied fish species in New Zealand. Snapper are slow growing and long lived, potentially reaching up to 60 years of age and 17 kilograms in weight.

The adult fish are extremely productive. They spawn many times over the warm summer months, with smaller fish producing tens of thousands of eggs and larger fish producing several million eggs, each season. The older fish are therefore important for their spawning potential. As well as producing many more eggs, their eggs are larger, which likely improves the survival and growth of their offspring.

Recent research has identified a significant difference between snapper that live around shallow rocky reefs and those that live further afield. The reef-based snapper appear to be largely residential and therefore they are susceptible to being fished out of local areas. In contrast, snapper that live over soft areas of seabed range much larger distances and are therefore more resilient to localised depletion. This suggests that fishing off reefs should be undertaken with care.

Snapper in kelp Leigh marine reserve
Snapper that live around rocky reefs are largely residential and therefore are easily fished out and slow to replenish.

One of the most direct threats to a healthy snapper population in the Gulf is overfishing. It is thought that harvesting reduced the snapper population to as little as 10 per cent of its original size in 1988, before it increased to around 24 per cent in 2010, and then again went into decline.

snapper in slurry
Overharvesting by recreational and commercial fishers is one of the biggest threats to the snapper population in the Gulf.

Habitat degradation from sedimentation and bottom disturbing fishing practices such as trawling have also likely affected the ability of the snapper population to rebound. This is due to the loss of habitats such as sea grass, shellfish beds and sponge and coral gardens which enable juvenile fish to survive into adulthood.

Sediment from earthworks in Beachlands
Sediment from earthworks, as shown here in Beachlands, degrades the marine environment and reduces its ability to produce harvestable sized fish.

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.