Jo's Monday Walks, Life at No.22, Local Walks, Walks

Local Walk – Moturiki Island, NZ

On a warmish summer morning, we wanted to elevate a flattish walk along Mount Maunganui beach and diverted our attention to Moturiki Island [Leisure Island]. This iconic landmark covers almost 2.5 ha.

Moturiki Island is the first “bump” from the Mount beach – taken from Mauao at sunrise on my morning walk.

We have ventured there several times, not particularly for the extra steps. The commanding views are what it’s all about, and no significant height to climb, just a gentle slope to the top. History and theories abound, and you won’t find an island more accessible than Moturiki to experience both.


Moturiki Island and Motuotau Island across Ocean Beach (Mount Maunganui), photographed from Mauao (c. 1920). Image Credit: Welsh Photo via Tauranga Heritage Collection 0227/09.

This island is a wāhi tapu site of historical significance to tangata whenua and was originally a defended Maori Pa site, with the terraces visible until 1940. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this site wasn’t protected, or it’s tapu status recognised and protected from “progress”.

In 1910, a quarry was established, taking rock from the southern edge of the Moturiki Pa for the construction of the Tauranga to Taneatua and Tauranga to Waihi railway lines. The quarry was closed in 1926.

A postcard depicting the pool area
Where the marine park was situated is now filled with walking paths through native trees and plants giving shade and colour. Plus, the odd human, keep your eyes and ears open for abundant birdlife hiding in the bushes. Squire [2021]

In 1964 a Tauranga entrepreneur proposed creating a large outdoor aquarium on the old quarry site on Moturiki Island. In 1965/66, drilling occurred on the old quarry floor, and explosives were set and detonated. When the loose material had been excavated, a sizeable open shape remained. The hole was filled with seawater and stocked with dolphins and other marine life, plus an odd assortment of other animals such as chimpanzees, llamas, wallabies, kea, possums and ferrets. Eventually, Marineland was established. The addition of sea elephants was introduced to the Marine Park in 1968. During that year, a rock causeway to Moturiki disappeared during the same storm that sank the ‘Wahine’ in Wellington Harbour in April. An artificial walkway can now be used to access the island.

Sea elephant from Campbell Island in captivity at Marineland, Moturiki Island, Mount Maunganui (January 1973). Image Credit: R. Anderson via Archives New Zealand 

It was popular at first, but gradually, patronage began to decline, possibly because the permanent population of the district at the time was not enough to support it, there was not enough variety in the exhibits, and the deaths of several of the dolphins led to questions about the care of the animals.

For me, this idea of entertainment is quite depressing and luckily, very few of these types of parks are no longer operated.

Marineland operated for 15 years before closing, and all the Marineland animals were rehomed at Marineland in Napier, and others relocated to Australia. Then in 1981, the Leisure Island fun park opened with bumper boats, hot and cold pools and a waterslide. Recently, the council mooted the idea of having another theme park. Thank goodness, you can’t compare a lovely protected marine nature walk with views to an artificial park.

Recent Happenings

2011 – Release of Kororā | Little Blue Penguins at Moturiki Island – after the Rena ship disaster
Moturiki (Leisure Island) and Motuotau (Rabbit Island) are more east and minor.
Cody, the laidback Kororā/blue penguin – lived quite happily amongst us, visiting humans around the island until being tangled in an unwanted fishing net was to be his premature exit from life.
Moturiki Island on a humid summer’s day

20 thoughts on “Local Walk – Moturiki Island, NZ”

    1. Eilene, I am with you regarding zoos and marine land parks. The only good thing about zoos is that they can keep a species alive; some do more good than harm. Especially when they foster animal environments much like their natural habitat.

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  1. What a lovely spot. I especially enjoyed reading about both the history and the significance. It’s amazing how far we’ve come since those days when all land was a potential development to be exploited – regardless of the consequences.

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    1. It is a lovely spot, and very popular during summer. Much more pleasant during the cooler months. It is interesting to see what was more acceptable for the majority back in the day. Thank goodness we have become more enlightened with more learning to be had.

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    1. Thanks very much, Anabel. Before considering changing this area, the council must address the many other issues it has to deal with, so no, I don’t see this area being changed for the worse. We couldn’t go back to the dark ages in conservation, could we?

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        1. We are vocubalary when it comes to champing the underdog and I suppose we are very much passionate about the environment. Our ex Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is off to assist with The Earthshot Prize which is dedicated to restore and protect the planet by 2030. We shall see how all that goes.

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  2. I hate the thought of those dolphin shows etc., I hope they don’t bring them back. Much better to leave the island as a natural resource and beauty spot! The views are really lovely 🙂

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  3. Beautiful photos, Suzanne. I don’t agree with marine parks either. If animals are kept in captivity for conservation that’s a different matter, but not for ‘entertainment’

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    1. Thanks very much, Cathy, and never for entertainment. Such a strange activity to get animals to do tricks in the first place, let alone it being repeated. I can’t see it ever happening again.

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