Postcards from the Edge: Motuihe/ Te motu-a-Ihenga

Department of Conservation —  25/05/2020

When you consider that living on an island is a form of isolation from the mainland, does lockdown look and feel any different to normal life? We thought we’d ask our dedicated rangers and staff that live on islands of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park to share their experiences during Alert Levels 3 & 4. Welcome to Postcards from the Edge!

For some of you, the week we went through Alert Levels 2 – 4 to break the transmission of Covid-19 will be etched in your memory. Patrick van Diepen was only four weeks on the job as DOC ranger for Motuihe Island/Te Motu-a-Ihenga in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana, when he had to quickly make the decision whether he wanted to, or even could, stay on the island during lockdown.

Sunset over Rangitoto and the Waitematā Harbour.
📷: Patrick van Diepen

“I had to stop what I was doing and have a think about what this all meant for me,” says Patrick. “This took place in the ranger’s office, watching three large kererū eating berries in the not so large puriri tree out in the yard. I did not particularly like the idea of spending a month away from my new place of work, just as I was settling in.”

With just 48 hours to prepare, Patrick jumped back to the mainland for a food-gathering mission, stocking up on two weeks of food for himself and his partner, Carys, who was able to join him as her University of Auckland course went online.

With only essential work approved during Alert Level 4, back on the island Patrick quickly completed re-baiting the trap network and tracking tunnels for the island, which was declared predator-free in 2005. The first official day of Alert Level 4 began the next day with online meetings, then settling in Carys who was a complete newbie to the island.

Patrick looking very pleased with his much needed eggs and bait for protection trapping.
📷: Patrick van Diepen

Motuihe put on a show with plenty of tīeke/saddleback, tūī, kākāriki, pōpokotea/whitehead and tuatara to welcome her. With the exception of tūī, all of these birds have been translocated to the island thanks to the work of the Motuihe Trust, who have been running the restoration project with DOC since 2000.

Korimako/bellbird perched on flax flowers.
📷:Evans, Shellie

But the island was still holding back a few surprises from Patrick. The first was a sighting of korimako/bellbird who appeared out of nowhere to take advantage of a drip line he was testing. But the second surprise has come as a shock to everyone who knows Motuihe well – not one, but two pairs of pāteke/brown teal, our rarest mainland waterfowl. Not seen in living memory on the island, Patrick saw the first pair at dusk at the stream near Snapper Bay, and the other on the dam next to the water tanks. Their presence is mostly likely due to the dry conditions on other islands.

Brown teal/pāteke taking up residence on Motuihe.
📷: Patrick van Diepen

Daily walks around the island, checking in on the plant nursery and other infrastructure, became an important part of Patrick’s mental wellbeing. Having recently come from Nelson Lakes National Park, where he had spent the last five and a half years working in biodiversity, he had time to reflect on the differences between both places.

Just about two kilometres of beach to ourselves.
📷: Patrick van Diepen

“I’m discovering more and more the scale of the impressive habitat restoration work going on in the Gulf,” he says. “Other areas, including the upper South Island, are very fortunate to have such large expanses of intact forest to work with, however these present their own challenges when it comes to wildlife restoration and protection – namely reinvasion by predators. This is less of a worry on predator-free islands thanks to the natural barrier of the sea and the tireless work done to rid the islands of them.”

“The historically farmed land in the Gulf seems to present itself as a unique opportunity to revegetate, while creating these gorgeous accessible tracks with the forest recovering up around them,” he continues.

At the end of week two the pantry was worse for wear, making a special Easter delivery from Eat My Lunch via Auckland Sea Shuttles all the more sweet. Patrick and Carys received some much needed fresh veges, as well as some complimentary hot cross buns!

After cleaning and stock-taking, and cleaning some more, it was a great relief during week four to be able to undertake some essential work pertaining to water, gas and electricity, as well as bringing in the tracking tunnel cards deployed on the day before lockdown (with only lizards to report).

Week five allowed for a full re-bait of the trap network and the replacement a few traps with refurbished ones. It was also the week of the best species encounter during lockdown. After walking back from watching the sunset from near the water tower, they both heard a male kiwi make his first call of the night, near Mangopare Rua point. After some covert creeping, crouching and listening, the little spotted kiwi walked past them.

While the inner island boat team began dropping off weekly groceries from Week Four, Patrick didn’t want to put them or their families at risk by jumping off the island, so stayed the full 7 weeks. While he has missed creature comforts, he says, “I am enjoying the opportunity to get to know the island on my terms.”

Reflecting on his experience during Alert Levels 3 & 4, Patrick says, “our threatened species are benefiting from their island refuges but in this way so are we. I can’t think of too many places where one and a half million people are living in such close proximity to this variety of beautiful, native animals. On a still night I can simultaneously hear the sounds of city life, along with our kororā/little penguin, ruru/morepork, and kiwi pukupuku/little spotted kiwi.”

As for Carys, she put her thoughts into this beautiful poem.

Quarantine on Te Motu-a-Ihenga

Forces you to slow down,

You lose track of days slowly going by,

You pay attention to the tides, the wind and the sun.

I have never been more aware of a seasonal shift.

The winds are strong, the air is crisp,

You take a breath and the air is clear.

Listen closely to hear the fauna here. 

The world continues without you,

A strangely calming thought.

Nothing matters except the sun, tides, moon and sea

And that you take it all in. 

Sunrise over Waiheke viewed with New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu and oystercatcher/tōrea pango.
📷: Patrick van Diepen

Motuihe Island/Te Motu-a-Ihenga is a predator-free island in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana, a skip, hop and a jump by ferry from downtown Auckland. It boasts crystal clear swimming, white sandy beaches, and a variety of native bush walks with the unique opportunity to see tuatara in the wild. The Motuihe Trust runs the restoration project in partnership with DOC since 2000, planting since 2003 to create a food source for native species such as kiwi, tīeke/saddleback and korimako/bellbirds to survive and thrive. DOC’s future management of the island as a public reserve will be guided by a Conservation Management Plan (the Tāmaki Makaurau motu plan) that will be jointly approved by Ngā Mana Whenua and the Auckland Conservation Board.

4 responses to Postcards from the Edge: Motuihe/ Te motu-a-Ihenga


    Us 2 years on Campbell Island guys (I did 2 years, had a year off and went back for 2 more years) would have thought of 7 weeks like being a weekend away. LOL

    Interesting article 🙂

    Gael C Gordon 27/05/2020 at 8:59 am

    Hi Patrick and Carys, what a great story. Wonderful to read of all the great work you are doing and the incredible experience of 7 weeks on the island. Makes living on Stewart Island sound like New York City by comparison!! 🙂
    Keep up the great work!

    Brian Collins 25/05/2020 at 11:42 pm

    So good to hear of your contribution Patrick and of the reimergence and continued protection of our unique species.

    Stephen Stafford-Bush 25/05/2020 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Patrick. What a great story. Thanks for sharing and for the great job you do protecting our flora and fauna. I’ve passed on the link to Simon. Stephen Stafford-Bush