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Whale Island in Bay of Plenty

It looked like a humpback whale to both the Maori and Captain James Cook, who charted New Zealand for the first time in the far-back 1780s for the British Admiralty. The Maori called it Motuhora and the captain, Whale Island. I lived at Bryans Beach, Opotiki for many years, and the island was central in my front window.

Here’s a picture of it from Ohiwa Harbour. The Ohope Spit is to the left of the photo.

High tide, Ohiwa Harbour with Whale Island

High tide, Ohiwa Harbour with Whale Island

Whale Island has had a chequered career since man first set foot on it. It’s now protected, and a sanctuary for native wild life. With no natural source of water on the island, privileged Department of Conservation volunteers spend a week at a time on holiday on the island during the summer months, as fire volunteers and to keep people from landing on the only accessible beach. I was lucky enough to be invited to share the pleasant hut with DOC volunteer friends. About ten of us landed with everything needed for the week, and the departing volunteers back-loaded the DOC launch with their gear.

The hut had a self-composting toilet and all the facilities. Showers consisted of sun-heated water in buckets hauled up a tree and downloaded through a showerhead to the person below. With no predators on the island, it was an environmental dream. Rare saddlebacks abounded. A small pool had been constructed near the hut for the birds, and we’d watch them splash and play from the hut verandah. But whenever a bush falcon cruised overhead, the bush became still and silent until the danger was over.

There’s a great article in the Tauranga weekend newspaper Sun Live, full of photos, history and current status of Whale Island. Read about it here: http:

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