Motutapu clean up
Image: Dr Leigh Joyce | DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


DOC, local iwi and volunteers from several organisations have joined forces to clean up and restore historic military bunkers on Motutapu.

Date:  16 December 2021

Department of Conservation (DOC) Supervisor Dr Leigh Joyce says the pest-free island in the Hauraki Gulf is haven for a number of protected and endangered species – but has a lesser-known military history.  

“During World War II, Motutapu was heavily fortified to protect Auckland from an expected invasion by Japanese forces as the conflict moved south.”

Dr Leigh Joyce says DOC was aware the bunkers held a variety of material and waste, some of it dating back to World War II, which needed to be retrieved or disposed of. DOC staff saw an opportunity to work with iwi and partners to spruce up the structures, save items of interest and get rid of rubbish.

It’s thought the waste in the bunker has accumulated over many years.

The work to clean up the bunkers on the island was part of a four-week project involving DOC staff, Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Motutapu Outdoor Education Centre, Motutapu Restoration Trust, Rangitoto Island Historic Conservation Trust, Sea Cleaners and EnviroNZ which operates ChemWaste, and EnviroWaste NZ.

“Most of the material removed was general waste, sorted into rubbish, recyclable items and scrap metal,” Dr Leigh Joyce says.

“Some interesting historical items were kept aside including old narrow rusting metal bed frames – possibly from the war, an old Singer sewing machine and an amazing old concrete mixer on wheels.

“So far, the team has removed more than 120 cubic metres of waste and recycling, plus 40 cubic metres of scrap metal to be recycled. To put that into perspective the carrying capacity of a large truck is 8–10 cubic metres.”

Material and items removed from the bunkers and considered salvageable will be assessed based on heritage best practice to see what can be preserved and potentially displayed.

“It was great to be able to work alongside the EnviroNZ team to understand what materials could be recovered and what needed special consideration from an environmental perspective,” Dr Leigh Joyce says.

“It was messy, the days were hot, yet the job was done immaculately, and we can all feel good knowing materials recovered from the island will have another life. We are extremely appreciative of contribution of the volunteers who helped. It’s more than just removing rubbish – it’s about helping restore the mana of Motutapu.”

EnviroNZ CEO Chris Aughton says the company is committed to working in partnership so future generations can enjoy this incredibly beautiful country and its rich history.

“The Motutapu Island clean-up shows the decisions made by earlier generations live with us for many years. We’re aiming to be good ancestors today, so we were proud to come together with DOC and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki to help them assess the historic materials left on the island. The team did an incredible job, and the project shows how communities, DOC and resource recovery specialists like us can work together to leave the environment in a better place,” says Chris Aughton.

Deputy Chair of Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki ki Billy Brown says, “the actions taken show collective ownership to restore the mauri of the motu and DOC taking greater responsibility for the long-term outcomes.

"This mahi tahi is also timely as we prepare for our wine and food festival on Motutapu, Island Time, over Auckland Anniversary weekend.”

DOC plans to work with iwi on future use of the bunkers now the clean-up has been completed.

Background information

Motutapu has been pest-free since 2011 and provides a safe haven for threatened and at-risk native wildlife including kiwi, takahē, tūturuatu/shoreplover, tīeke/saddleback, kākāriki/red-crowned parakeet, korimako/bellbird, and native skinks.

At 178 million years old it is one of the oldest land masses in the Hauraki Gulf. The island was intensively settled by Māori, and in the British colonial era it hosted massive Victorian picnic parties.

The fortifications on the island were developed by the New Zealand Government as it identified the possibility of an attack during World War II. Motutapu’s strategic position meant the military could use it protect Auckland from a seaborne attack, and its extensive defences included some of the country’s most advanced artillery.

Underground ammunition stores, observation posts, roads and a causeway to neighbouring Rangitoto were built to support the deployment of more than 1000 military personnel at the height of the Pacific theatre of World War II.

The expected invasion never came.


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