Recently a large number of people were given the rare opportunity to see a wild northern brown kiwi up close. The occasion was in celebration of the 200th kiwi being transferred from the Matakohe Limestone Island kiwi creche, back to the mainland.
Matakohe Limestone Island is located in the Whangarei Harbour, a little under 2 km downstream from the Golden Bay wharf in Portland, Whangarei. The Island is Northland’s only operational kiwi creche. Kiwi are gifted by Ngāti Hine, and arrive on the Island as ten day old chicks. The chicks are released and allowed to live in a relatively pest free environment until they are big enough to fend off a stoat and be transferred back to the mainland (around 1250 g). Together with Te Parawhau, Backyard Kiwi, and Kiwi Coast, Friends of Matakohe Limestone Island (FOMLI) host several well attended public kiwi release events per year, where members of the community can see a kiwi in real life, learn about the important role that they play in the species recovery – and the opportunities for people to contribute with their own actions.
We have a long-standing association with the island dating back to 1896 when the New Zealand Portland Cement company purchased a fledgling cement works. At its peak, 200 people were employed by the cement works, and around 250 people resided on the Island including families with young children. In 1918, competition saw it necessary to relocate the cement works to its present site on the mainland at Portland. The cement work ruins that remain on Matakohe Limestone Island are a unique feature and represent an important part of New Zealand’s early industrial history.
Early sponsorship of the island's restoration by Golden Bay Cement began in 1993, with initial grants getting planting underway. Golden Bay went on to become one of the Islands major sponsors in 1998. This long term commitment has been a key component in ensuring the success of the restoration project, putting FOMLI in a position to apply to other sources for funding. With help from the Whangarei community, FOMLI have planted over 180,000 trees since the projects inception, 34 years ago, providing habitat and safe haven for the species that have been translocated to the Island - many gifted by Ngātiwai, or that have self-introduced since the project began: these include but are not limited to; shore skinks, ornate skinks, moko skinks, suter’s skinks, forest gecko, Pacific gecko, Auckland green gecko, common gecko, oi/grey-faced petrel, kiwi, banded rail, fern birds, and reef heron.
Tangata Whenua, Te Parawhau, once occupied the pā on Matakohe, developing and tending to extensive gardens along the sloping North-western face of the Island. Te Parawhau and the voluntary FOMLI committee work together to manage the day to day running of Matakohe Limestone Island. FOMLI employ a resident ranger, who looks after a range of tasks, including weed control, species monitoring, report writing, managing volunteers, taking on local Te Pūkenga practicum students, public speaking, funding applications, mowing and track maintenance, servicing and maintaining the Islands assets, community engagement, transporting and guiding groups around the Island, transporting kiwi to and from the Island, and much more.
Matakohe Limestone Island is a favourite destination for Whangārei locals. There are several walking tracks, and other facilities on the Island available for public use. FOMLI and Te Parawhau are proud of what has been achieved in little over 30 years, none of which would have been possible without the support of sponsors such as Golden Bay. FOMLI have plenty more exciting projects on the horizon and are looking forward to seeing what the next 30 years will achieve.