Motuopao Island is an important refuge for threatened species once common on the mainland such as pupuharakeke (flax snail) and many seabirds. Removal of environmental damaging weeds is an ongoing project for the Department, as well as active monitoring to ensure rodents and other pest plants and animals do not invade the island.
View of Cape Maria van Diemen from
Motuopao lighthouse, Motuopao Island
Motuopao (also Motuopau or Motu Opou) Island is located 200m off the tip of Cape Maria Van Diemen in the Far North, and is visible from Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga).
The island comprises of two 118 m tall basaltic stacks covered in sand with a saddle valley that runs in an east and west direction. The island is frequently windswept by strong south-westerlies and access to the island is difficult due to the swells and 5-10 knot currents in the channel between Motuopao Island and Cape Maria van Diemen.
In the 1870, New Zealand built a network of lighthouses to protect shipping from natural hazards. Due to the dangerous waters at the northern tip of New Zealand, Motuopao was chosen as the site best suited for a lighthouse.
A lighthouse settlement was established in the early 1880's with three families of lighthouse keepers. The island remained a lighthouse station until 1940 when the light was dismantled and taken to Te Rerenga Wairua.
The lighthouse tower is the most prominent structure on the island and requires maintenance from time to time, usually undertaken in conjunction with the six monthly weeding trip DOC staff make.
Motuopao is home to substantial breeding populations of black-winged petrel (Pterodroma nigripennsis) and common diving petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix).
Six species of breeding petrels have been recorded on Motuopao, including grey-faced petrels (Pterodroma macroptera), white-faced storm petrels (Pelagodroma marina), sooty shearwaters (Puffinus griseus), and fluttering shearwater (Puffinus gavia). Almost all of these species were once common on the mainland.
Motuopao was a manned lighthouse station between 1879 and 1940 and during this period was grazed by sheep. In 1989, the Department of Conservation eradicated kiore (Rattus exulans) and in 1997 it started controlling weeds including Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia), smilax (Asparagus asparagoides) and Gladiolus cardinalis, wallflower (Cheiranthus cheiri), and tree mallow (Lavatera arborea).
Weed control was initiated to control the spread of the remaining garden plants (introduced during the lighthouse period) and to remove ecosystem impacting plants before restoration of native habitats.
Motuopao is home to three skinks; Smith’s skink (Leiolopisma smithi), Moco skink (L. moco) and Suter’s skink (L.suteri). Pacific geckos (Hoplodactylus pacificus) have also been recorded on the northern side of the island.
Native plants and animals on the New Zealand mainland face constant battle for survival against nasty introduced pests, including mice, rats, ants, and stoats.
Motuopao has none of these pests. For this reason, Motuopao is strictly a ‘no landing zone’. The only visitors are DOC staff, iwi and researchers undertaking approved weed control, historic management activities, including the preservation of the lighthouse structure and settlement, and plant and animal work.
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