Lagoon on Motuarohia Island Recreation Reserve

Image: Todd Johnson | Creative Commons


The island has a significant Maori history and offers a range of recreation activities, including a track to a stunning pa site, and an educational underwater trail for snorkelers.

Place overview


  • Diving and snorkelling
  • Walking and tramping
  • Stop kauri dieback and protect kauri
    • Kauri dieback disease is spread through soil.
    • Scrub soil off shoes and gear and check it's all removed before you go.
    • Use a cleaning station when you enter and leave.
    • Always stay on the track.

    How you can help save kauri

  • Check you are pest-free

    Check, clean, and seal your gear to ensure you don't bring pests, soil, and seeds.

    See island biosecurity requirements.


Find things to do and places to stay Motuarohia Island Recreation Reserve

About this place

Nature and conservation


In 1979, the central section of the island came under the care of the Department of Conservation.

The island is now pest free, thanks to Project Island Song. As part of an ongoing restoration of the island, whitehead/popokotea have been released. These 'canaries of the forest' can be heard and occasionally seen across Motuarohia. Other conservation work includes looking after resident North Island brown kiwi and NZ dotterel nest protection during the breeding season.


The topography of Motuarohia ranges from steep coastal cliffs which face the open sea to the north and west, with headlands dissected by moderately steep gullies on its southern side. Flat lat surrounds a lagoon area on the southern side of Motuarohia. 


There are kikuyu grass flats, kanuka/native shrub hardwood forest and extensive stands of maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) with a regenerating understorey of native shrub hardwoods which are mainly hangehange and coprosoma spp. Coastal cliff communities are extensive with pohutukawa and the coastal tussock (Chionachloa bromoides). Stands of maritime pine were originally grown for the extraction of turpentine.

Extensive planting of native coastal species has resulted in native forest regeneration in areas of felled to waste pine forest on the western end of the island.


There are permanent residents on the island in at least one of the 9 dwellings on private land, and there are multiple ancillary buildings.

Public conservation land: Motuarohia Island Recreation Reserve 19.488 ha
Private land: 43.914 ha
Total Area:  63.402

History and culture

Motuarohia Island features a number of archaeological sites including pa, terraces, pits, and gardening lines around the central lagoon area.

Māori settlement

The island has a significant Māori history with occupation likely from the earliest Polynesian settlement periods. Prehistoric Māori thrived in the island environment. This is highlighted by the density of archaeological sites on Motuarohia Island. Recorded archaeological sites include pa, terraces, pits, and gardening lines around the central lagoon area on the island.

European explorers visited the island

In 1769, Captain Cook anchored the Endeavour just off this island in what is now known as Cook’s Cove. Reportedly there were 200-300 Maori on the island, and he and his crew were involved in a small skirmish ending in gunfire.

Following this encounter, Cook and his crew found hospitality and plentiful supplies of food and water during the remainder of their stay in the Bay of Islands. Cook’s artist Parkinson sketched the pa at the extreme eastern end of the island. Cook had a Tahitian on board the Endeavour who could understand and converse with Māori. This was undoubtedly an advantage over other explorers to the bay.

French explorer Marion du Fresne visited this island three years later to retrieve shingle from the lagoons as ballast for his ships. 

European settlement and farming

In 1839, Motuarohia became known as Roberton Island named after John Roberton, a former whaling ship captain, who purchased the island from Ngapuhi chiefs. A year later, Roberton died in a boating accident, and Mrs Roberton and a man named Thomas Bull farmed the island.

A sad story of death and retribution surrounding Roberton’s family ensued. It led to the prosecution of Wiremu Kingi Maketu – the first prosecution of an individual under New Zealand colonial law and an important part of the history of the island and the nation.

Since the tragic time of Maketu, the island has passed through private ownership many times.


Captain J. Cook on his Voyages of Discovery. Vol 1 “The voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771”. J.C Beaglehole, Haluyt Society, 1955

Lee, J. 1983. I have named it the Bay of Islands. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. Auckland, New Zealand.

Getting there

Motuarohia/Roberton Island is located in the Eastern Bay of Islands.

Once out on the water from Paihia or Russell, the first island you see is Motuarohia Island, distinguished by its two glorious lagoons - the most photographed scene in the Bay.

The four main bays, Otupoho, Waipao, Mangahawea and Waiwhapuku all offer safe anchorage for visitors. 

Know before you go

The reserve is part of the Bay of Islands Maritime and Historic Park.

  • Walks in this area can include sections near steep cliffs. Supervise children when near cliffs and keep on the track at all times.
  • Bay of Islands Maritime and Historic Park bylaws apply.
  • Rubbish is not collected – take your rubbish with you. There may be rubbish facilities during summer.
  • Camping in the Bay of Islands is only available on Urupukapuka Island.


Pewhairangi / Bay of Islands Office
Phone:   +64 9 407 0300
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   34 Landing Road
Kerikeri 0230
Postal Address:   PO Box 128
Kerikeri 0245
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