TROTMH 2: Motutapu Island

This is the second in a series of extracts from my new book The Return of the Mullet Hunter, which I am posting over the the course of this week.

This second extract describes my visit to Motutapu Island, an uninhabited island off Auckland which was home to Mullet Bay, one of New Zealand’s five mullets. I got there after an invite from the local restoration trust to join them on a work party. The photo is from the beautiful Mullet Bay itself.

Mullet Bay

We sailed far out to sea, the journey a little less than an hour or so, and as the skyline of Auckland shrunk away the islands we were headed for began to emerge more clearly.

Motutapu neighboured Rangitoto, and while a causeway between them spanned just a short distance, it connected lands that were a vast chasm apart in age. Motutapu Island itself was millions of years old, while Rangitoto was the result of volcanic eruptions only around six hundred years ago, and thus a total youth in comparison.

“Alien” wildlife and plants had, since European colonisation, polluted both islands, and one of trust’s aims was to restore Motutapu Island to its original state by removing the invasive species and allowing the natives to flourish.

We pulled into the harbour, where men and women waited for us on the pier, dressed in boiler suits or t-shirts emblazoned with the Motutapu Restoration Trust logo. Arriving on a lush, seemingly uninhabited island and met by a large, uniformed reception committee, I felt unsettlingly like I was in an episode of Lost.

On disembarking and receiving a quick orientation, we trekked up a hillside path. It was a hot day, and we shared out sun cream between us as we walked under the beating sunshine. We arrived at a section of forest that was marked out as today’s target and were introduced to examples of the European species of plant that we were there to remove. I forgot their names and what they looked like immediately as — and anyone who knows me can testify to this — I have little aptitude for gardening. I didn’t admit this to the coordinators, though, who had all greeted me knowingly as “the mullet guy”.

The team explained to me that Mullet Bay was over on the other side of the island. In the afternoon, one of the coordinators, John, was to take me and anyone else interested on a half-day exploration of the rest of the island, taking in Mullet Bay and some old military fortifications.


I doubt very much whether I earned my guided tour, as I wasn’t really cut out for conservation. It was truly noble work and impressive to see the beautiful setting slowly being restored to its natural state, not to mention sad that it was taking around fifty years to undo the damage done by the early European settlers. However, my inability to grasp, literally, the difference between the plants led me, I am sure, to pull up a few natives along the way by accident.

After a stop to eat lunch, John then took a handful of us on the tour of the rest of the island. I was delighted that quite a few others volunteered to come in search of Mullet Bay, but I felt slightly guilty too, depriving the work party of a few good man-hours of work on the restoration project. John seemed to be glad of the expedition, however, and it was a beautiful walk across the island. On the way he told us more about the history of the island, including a little about the Maori remains found there.

We dwelt longest at old military fortifications that had been built on the island in the 1930s and were an important part of New Zealand’s defences during the Second World War. Motutapu had housed radar and anti-aircraft guns, explained John, a network of eerily empty concrete bunkers now all that remained. After the efforts put into the fortifications, New Zealand was never invaded and no action was seen on the island.

Indeed, the actual prospect of invasion was deemed so unlikely that the idea didn’t even occur to the military itself on occasions. John told the story of one soldier on the island who had spotted an unidentifiable object flying across the sky. He quickly got on the telephone to the mainland, only for the operator on the other end to casually confirm “don’t worry about it, it’s not one of ours” before hanging up.

After the military history, it was on to Mullet Bay itself.  It was a pleasant walk across to the east coast of the island and down a hill towards the bay, a lovely golden beach back dropped by green hills. In the bright sunshine it was just wonderful, not to mention temporarily the heaviest-populated mullet that I had ever visited thanks to the small crowd who had come along. It also, delightfully, had a big sign with “Mullet Bay” on it, so I posed for the obligatory photo and everyone congratulated me.

Our party of mullet-hunting slackers then returned to the main house next to the pier, where we finished the afternoon with a barbecue and a chill out by the water before the ferry took us back. On board the boat was a small bar, and while most of us drank to celebrate a hard day’s work in the unrelenting sunshine, I had that little extra sense of achievement to make my beer that bit sweeter.

You can buy The Return of the Mullet Hunter on the Kindle for a frankly ridiculous bargain price at Amazon UKUSACanada and Australia, plus all other Amazon regions. Other ebook formats and a paperback version will follow in 2014.

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