A visit to Tiritiri Matangi is the high point of many a stay in Auckland. About 4km off the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and 30km north of Auckland, Tiritiri Matangi is an “open sanctuary”, and visitors are free to roam through the predator-free bush where, within a couple of hours, it’s possible to see rarities such as takahe, saddlebacks, whiteheads, red-crowned parakeets, North Island robins, kokako and brown teals. To stand a chance of seeing the little-spotted kiwi and tuatara, you’ll have to stay overnight.
Four of the species released here are among the rarest in the world, with total populations of around a couple of hundred. The most visible are the flightless takahe, lumbering blue-green turkey-sized birds long thought to be extinct (see Te Anau Wildlife Centre); the birds were moved here from Fiordland, have bred well and are easily spotted as they are unafraid of humans and very inquisitive. Saddlebacks, kokako and stitchbirds stick to the bush and its margins, but often pop out if you sit quietly for a few moments on some of the bush boardwalks and paths near feeding stations. Northern blue penguins also frequent Tiritiri and can be seen all year round but are most in evidence in March, when they come ashore to moult, and from September to December, when they nest in specially constructed viewing boxes located along the seashore path west of the main wharf.
The standard loop along the east coast then back via the central Ridge Track passes Hobbs Beach, where you might want to indulge in a little swimming from the only sandy strand around.
Evidence from pa sites on the island indicates that Tiritiri Matangi was first populated by the Kawerau-A-Maki Maori and later by Ngati Paoa, both of whom are now recognized as the land’s traditional owners. They partly cleared the island of bush, a process continued by Europeans who arrived in the mid-nineteenth century to graze sheep and cattle. Fortunately, predators such as possums, stoats, weasels, deer, cats, wallabies and the like failed to get a foothold, so after farming became uneconomic in the early 1970s Tiritiri was singled out as a prime site for helping to restore bird populations. The cacophony of birdsong in the bush is stark evidence of just how catastrophic the impact of these predators has been elsewhere.
Since 1984, a reforestation programme has seen the planting of over 300,000 saplings, and though the rapidly regenerating bush is far from mature, the birds seem to like it. Most are thriving with the aid of feeding stations to supplement diets in the leaner months, with nesting boxes standing in for decaying trees.