Moutohorā (Whale Island) Wildlife Management Reserve
Located in the East Coast region
IntroductionMoutohorā or Whale Island is a Wildlife Management Reserve for endangered birds and plants. You need a permit to visit the island.
Find things to do and places to stay Moutohorā (Whale Island) Wildlife Management Reserve
Public access to Moutohorā is restricted to permit holders and approved tour parties led by concessionaires. Permits must be obtained from the Department of Conservation office in Opotiki. During periods of high fire danger all access may be declined.
Research on or about Moutohorā (Whale Island) Wildlife Management Reserve is encouraged, especially on key aspects of conservation that would benefit management operations for the island, surrounding waters and its biota. As the island has reserve status, all research requires a Department of Conservation research permit.
The Moutohorā (Whale Island) research strategy (PDF, 2,596K) outlines the process for research proposal applications, approvals and permitting.
Te Tapatoru a Toi is the joint management committee between Ngati Awa and the Crown (Department of Conservation) for the strategic management of Moutohorā, Ohope and Tauwhare Pa scenic reserves.
The 143-hectare island is a remnant volcanic cone which has eroded, leaving two peaks. This is still an area of volcanic activity and there are hot springs on the island in Sulphur Valley and Sulphur and McEwans bays.
The most significant features of Moutohorā’s wildlife management have been the successful introductions of tuatara, North Island brown kiwi and tieke (North Island saddleback).
Other significant wildlife includes a large breeding colony of kuia (grey-faced petrel), kakariki, little blue penguin, northern New Zealand dotterel, variable oystercatcher and caspian tern. Common forest and marine birds are also present. Kākā and kārearea are regular visitors to Moutohorā.
There are three species of lizard (common gecko, speckled skink and copper skink).
Numerous archaeological sites of both Māori and European origin have been recorded, including an extensive pa (fortified earthworks) site on Pa Hill and a number of house terraces and garden sites, middens (food refuse dumps), stone tool manufacture areas and stone walls.
After permanent Māori occupation ceased in the early nineteenth century, Ngati Awa and Tuhoe continued to visit the island for sea food and muttonbirds/petrel and to collect stones for hangi (underground ovens).
Ngāti Awa history and culture
According to Ngāti Awa, the first known occupation of Moutohorā was by Rongotauroa-ā-tai, a grandson of Toroa, commander of the Mataatua waka. Rongo built and occupied the pa which he called Raetihi Kāwatawata Koangiangi (the summit of gentle breezes). Some of his descendants can be found among Ngāti Awa hapu today.
Taiwhakaea I, the ancestor of Ngāti Awa, occupied Raetihi Pā from time to time as did other Ngāti Awa chiefs including Te Ngārara, Tautumuroa (Taitumuroa) and Kakara. The clean fresh water from Te Puna Wai was only able to sustain the people for short periods each year. Occupation of the island was therefore confined to times of seasonal harvesting.
Motu Harapaki was used as a lookout point to detect intruders and to observe the sea and mainland.There are a significant number of recorded archaeological sites. Evidence indicates that further investigation is required. Ngāti Awa continue to use Moutohorā as a learning place.
Wāhi tapu (sacred places)
- Te Pari Kawau (roosting place of the cormorant), at Oneroa, is an urupā hāhunga (temporary burial ground). Ngāti Awa expect the public to observe the tapu nature of this site and to stay away from it.
- Waiariki/Te One Pā, situated at Te Onepu, is significant to Ngāti Awa for its geothermal qualities and hot springs.
- In 1908 volcanic activity caused an earthquake which modified these sites.
Wāhi taonga (special places)
- Māra kumara (kumara garden), at Te Rawhiti. Ngāti Awa aims to protect this area, which was historically used to grow kumara.
- Te Puna Wāi (water spring), at Oneroa, is the only known source of fresh water.
- One Raki (Northern Bay), is considered by Ngāti Awa to be a mahinga mātaitai (seafood gathering place).
- Raetihi Pā, including the stone walls that form terraces.
The first European occupation came in the 1830s with an unsuccessful attempt to establish a shore-based whaling station. The venture failed without a single whale being captured.
Forty years later came attempts to make money from sulphur. It was extracted and sold to a refinery in Auckland over a number of years but was of poor quality, and the venture was abandoned in 1895. The next phase of industrial activity came in 1915, when quarrying provided rock for the construction of the Whakatāne harbour wall. A total of 26,000 tonnes of rock was removed over five years.
In 1965 Moutohorā was declared a wildlife refuge and the island was bought by the Crown in 1984. The wildlife refuge status was revoked in 2012 and the wildlife management reserve allows for the cultural take of mutton bird to be legal on the island.