A short drive north of Auckland and 4km off the Whangaparaoa Peninsula lies Tiritiri Matangi Island (meaning "looking to the wind" or "wind tossing about"). In Māori tradition the island is one of the floats of an ancestral fishing net and it has a varied history reaching back to the 14th century - including Māori settlement, European farming, a long-standing lighthouse and a stint as a military post during World War Two.
On an overcast but settled spring morning in late September the ENZL team boarded the ferry to visit this piece of history, the plan being to combine education with team building as well as making the most of having the whole crew together by conducting an extensive team meeting. The 20-minute ferry ride was smooth and uneventful (much to the relief of those of us without good sea legs!) and we arrived in sunshine with a number of other locals and tourists keen to explore this small piece of paradise. The ferry crew were very diligent in reminding the eager passengers about the strict biosecurity requirements for the island and one of the rangers was waiting to greet us all, with an induction at the pier.
While many others took the opportunity to go for a guided walk with the very knowledgeable volunteers, we made our way up the hill to the visitor’s centre and accommodation, acquainted ourselves with the lie of the land and decided to head for Fisherman’s Bay (roughly halfway along the island’s north-eastern coast). Surrounded by tūī, whitehead (pōpokatea), saddleback (tīeke), pūkeko and the occasional takahe, we made our way through the regenerating native bush to the beach.
Amongst the rocky crevices and cobbles edging the beach we were lucky enough to catch a few glimpses of the shiny eyes of the common gecko or raukawa gecko and the stunning patterns of the moko skink and the shore skink, before they melted effortlessly back into their surrounds. For some of us this was the first time seeing these beautiful native reptiles in the flesh and the predator-free environment of the Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary means there were many of them in just one small bay! By this time our tummies were grumbling so we made our way back up the hill to the bunkhouse for lunch and the first half of our team meeting.
It was a privilege to visit this special place that shines even brighter than its stalwart lighthouse, as a spectacular example of the results of the tireless restoration efforts of generations of New Zealanders.
That evening after Connor cooked us a delicious dinner and Mark introduced us to a strangely addictive dice game, we headed out to experience the island by night and to see who could spot some of the unique nocturnal fauna first. The hushing of the waves on the shore below the cliffs was a beautiful change from the usual urban hum of Auckland city, especially when interspersed with occasional calls from morepork (ruru) and brown teal (pāteke). We can only imagine the sounds that the earliest inhabitants of this island must have listened to whilst sitting around their fires at night. The team was also lucky enough to see a giant wētā (wētāpunga) perching conveniently on a branch above their heads, as well as some delightful little penguin chicks (little blue / kororā) within their artificial nesting boxes by the shore and even a tuatara outside his nesting box. Eventually the long day caught up with us and we made our way back through the dark forest to the bunkhouse.
The next morning, we packed up, finished our meeting and had some lunch in time to extend our walk to the ferry into a wander along some more of Tiritiri’s many beautiful trails (after a quick visit to the amazing gift shop of course!). The team split in two and there was slightly more than a hint of competition to see if someone could find the last reptile (the copper skink) and a kōkako! One group was fortunate enough to hear and catch sight of the iconic bird, while Marc and Simon both spotted copper skinks, but there’s still debate as to who saw one first as they were in two separate search parties. No doubt we won’t hear the end of it and so it was called a draw. We all took the opportunity to explore and learn about some of the less common native trees, shrubs and climbers as we walked. We wandered amongst the myriad bird species including North Island robin (toutouwai), stitchbird (hihi), some more little penguins, sacred kingfisher (kōtare) and bellbird (korimako) and even saw some banded kōkopu in one of the small forest streams. Eventually the forest morphed from
ancient twisted puriri trees back to the coastal pōhutukawa that we’re so familiar with and we strolled back along the beach to join the rest of the happy, but weary, travelers awaiting the call to board the ferry.