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Te Paparahi: the great land, the plentiful place, the foundation

by Kate Waterhouse

If you are a visitor to Aotea Great Barrier Island, the chances are that no one you meet has ventured into Te Paparahi. The chances of you venturing there are also slight. Te Paparahi is the remote forested north of the island, rising to a height of 526 m at Tataweka, and falling steeply on all sides to a tortured basalt coastline exposed to the full force of the Pacific weather. It is very likely the first land that ocean-going waka sighted on the long sea voyages by early Māori from Hawaiki, but there is little shelter here.

In 1894, Miner’s Head on the northwest tip of Te Paparahi was the site of New Zealand’s third worst shipwreck, when the Wairarapa steamed into it at full speed in heavy fog with the loss of 121 lives.  On the east side, Rangiwhakaea Bay (Wreck Bay) is an idyllic ring of sandy coves. To the west, Coppermine Bay is tucked in under Miner’s Head and was the site of copper mining in the 19th Century. Little remains of this settlement today, nor of Te Paparahi’s first inhabitants. Kumera pits dot the ridges above both bays, an indication of the Māori population the area once sustained. The forests appear intact and would have sustained large populations of kererū (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) and kākā (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), with ground nesting seabirds along the ridges and on adjoining islets.  

The northern part of Aotea, Te Paparahi forest, covers about 3,310 ha1. As Sonia Williams wrote in 20122, Te Paparahi is of significant importance to Ngati Rehua, it holds taonga and spiritual values that pertain to mauri (life force) and wairua (spiritual nature/forces/essences) of people, flora, fauna, land and water.

Te Paparahi is the largest tract of possum and mustelid free forest
 in New Zealand and was the last refuge for kōkako
on Aotea.

Aotea’s northern biodiversity hotspot

Te Paparahi is not volcanic, unlike much of the rest of the island. Instead greywacke rock (about 150 million years old) forms the northern part. Kanuka forest (Kunzea ericoides) dominate in areas that have been burned or cleared. Large areas of coastal broadleaf forest cover the eastern slopes. 

Te Paparahi is also rich in wildlife, and home to black petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni), Cook’s petrel (Pterodroma cookie), kākāriki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae)3, pāteke (Anas chlorotis), kākā, long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus),  chevron skink (Oligosoma homalonotum) and one of two island populations of Hochstetter’s frog (Leiopelma hochstetteri).  From 31 December 1982 to 9 January 1983, a 20 strong group from the renowned Offshore Island Research Group camped at Rangiwhakaea Bay, and surveyed the northeast of Aotea Great Barrier Island. Many of the resulting publications documented the area’s natural history for the first time, including the geology4, botany5, avifauna6 and herpetofauna7.

The Offshore Island Research Group survey revealed most of the Te Paparahi forests had been eaten out and severely degraded by the presence of goats and pigs over 124 years.

Goats were eradicated from Te Paparahi by 1992, but pigs remain. Hunting requires a permit and Aotea Great Barrier Island is a significant pig hunting destination

Te Paparahi

Value of Te Paparahi to the nation

Te Paparahi is New Zealand’s largest tract of possum and mustelid free forest and is close to our largest population centre. So why has it not attracted more attention from the Department of Conservation for protection?  Its taonga are well known to mana whenua and include:

Intact forest ecosystem: Forest scientists8 have highlighted the quality of the ‘Northern Bush’. While the area was affected by fire and forest clearance, contiguous tracts of the main forest types on the island are still found in there – montane, upper montane and lowland.

Needles Point at the northern tip of Te Paparahi on Aotea Great Barrier.


Seabird breeding habitat: The ridges of Te Paparahi would once have been riddled with seabirds. Today, a few species (black petrel, Cook’s petrel and possibly little shearwater and grey-faced petrels) are likely to be nesting on islets and cliffs where predation by feral pigs, cats and rats is reduced.

uri forest free of dieback:  Difficult access meant that kāuri was not completely logged out of Te Paparahi. Stands can be seen on ridgelines to the east of Tataweka - no tracks lead to these trees and few venture there, making them an important population in the Auckland region.

Biodiversity site of significance: In a memo titled Ecological Review of the Aotea Great Barrier Island Ecological Vision to the Great Barrier Local Board in 2017, Auckland Council Ecologist Eru Nathan highlighted Te Paparahi as a biodiversity focus area for Auckland. 

What lies ahead: post-settlement co-governance and bringing back kōkako

Te Paparahi is likely to be included in the Treaty settlement currently being finalised by the Maori Trustee. Te Paparahi, like all of Aotea Great Barrier, contains sites of cultural significance for Ngati Rehua Ngatiwai Ki Aotea.  These may be wahi tapu or sacred sites, or areas used traditionally for mahinga kai such as titi (muttonbird) gathering.

As the hapu management plan1 states: As kaitiaki we expect to be involved in all decision making that affects indigenous biodiversity, and in particular… in those areas affected by Treaty settlements.  Appendix 11 lays out the biodiversity protection requirements the iwi is likely to apply to management of Te Paparahi – which seek to maintain the mauri of an area through sustainable cultural practices and protecting indigenous biodiversity from harm.

There is strong support for the return of kōkako to Te Paparahi. At a hui at Motairehe in 2012, Hazel Speed of the Kokako Recovery Group confirmed that Te Paparahi was large enough to sustain an unmanaged kōkako population.

Since that time, Ngati Rehua has been working to bring about the return of kōkako - a goal specified in the 2014-2024 Conservation Management Strategy for the island.

Surveys have confirmed the recovery of the forest understory. However, with high densities of ship rats and feral cats, not only can kōkako not return, but other species such as Chevron skink, Hochstetter’s frog, kākāriki, kākā and kererū are also under pressure.

In the early 1980s, kōkako was still being reported in Te Paparahi. I will never forget hearing the call of a kōkako floating across a valley in the early evening behind Rangiwhakaea Bay. Sonia Williams wrote in 2012, “I remember my aunty telling me she had heard the kōkako that morning on her way to her favourite fishing spot, only 30 years ago!”

By 1982, a survey found just 12 to14 kōkako concentrated in the valleys on the eastern side of the ridge to Tataweka. By the early 1990s, the decision was taken to remove any remaining birds to Hauturu Little Barrier to preserve the genetic diversity they represented. Only two were found.

North Island kōkako on Aotea were the only known natural offshore island population and was lost in 1994 when the last two birds were transferred from Te Paparahi to Hauturu Little Barrier Island.  Photo: Adrian Lambrechts


 Te Paparahi: Conservation milestones 

1972   Consolidated Silver Mining Company bulldozes a track from Mabey Road to Tataweka.

1980   Hochstetter’s frog discovered in Te Paparahi – one of only two island populations.
Ogle identifies Te Paparahi as an area of outstanding forest habitat.

1983   Control measures begin for feral goats which are devastating the forest understory.

1984   ‘Northern Block’ is gifted to the Department of Lands and Survey for a reserve.

1985   Several researchers5,6,7 note the particularly diverse fauna of native lizards, frogs, kokako and plants.

1986   Goat culling begins in Te Paparahi by Forest Service cullers and continues until 1992.

1989   First interest in marine protection for the northeast cost of Aotea Great Barrier.

1993   Chevron Skink Threatened Species Recovery Plan9 identifies west-facing streams of Te Paparahi as strongholds for the species.

1994   Last two surviving kōkako caught and transferred by boat to Hauturu Little Barrier.

2005   Goats eradicated from Aotea Great Barrier, shot out of Te Paparahi in the early 1990s.

2009   Between 2008 and 2009, 18 feral cattle shot out of Te Paparahi, some remain.

2010   Great Barrier Island State of the Environment Report: profiles Te Paparahi.

2011   Bring Back Kōkako hui at Motairehe Marae hosted by Ngati Rehua Ngatiwai Ki Aotea.

2014   Return of North Island kōkako to Te Paparahi included as a milestone in Department of Conservation’s Auckland Region Conservation Management Strategy.

2015   Te Paparahi included in the newly created Aotea Conservation Park.

2016   Bring Back Kōkako feasibility study completed by ecologist Ian Flux for Ngati Rehua, funded by the Department of Conservation, as input into planning for return of kōkako.

2017   Te Paparahi identified as a biodiversity focus area by Auckland Council.

Rangiwhakaea Bay and the northeast coastline. Forest types on Te Paparahi vary greatly: from the conifer/hardwood (kauri, kanuka, ponga); to broadleaf assemblages of kohekohe, tawa, tarairi and nikau; and disturbed forest types with kanuka, manuka, ponga as well as pohutakawa, kohekohe and fernland. Photo: E Cameron

Tataweka - expert route finding required

The Department of Conservation’s advice to visitors makes it clear that the track to Tataweka is an ‘Expert route’ giving time estimates of eight to nine hours return. The Burrill Route is named for Max Burrill who gifted the land to the crown in 1984. The track starts from Mabey Road and climbs steeply through the regenerating forest of Te Paparahi to the central ridge and follows through to Tataweka. The Department of Conservation states that the track is not regularly managed and is indistinct in some places. 

In January 1978, I undertook the first of many trips into what was known locally as the ‘Northern Block’. My father had shot goats there in the 1950s with the Cooper boys of Glenfern. He led us up the old mining track through head high ti-tree (as we called it then), into the open bush and stands of massively buttressed pukatea (Laurelia novae-zelandiae), down into Coppermine Bay. From there it was up and out along the sea cliffs of Miner’s Head on tracks lined with spiky goat-browsed coprosma, before circling back over Tataweka.  At that time, the summit was grassy and open and home to a herd of about 30 goats.

The next trip saw us make the full traverse, dropping down from Tataweka through huge stands of kanuka to a scrap of sand he had seen on an aerial photo at the base of the ‘Needles’ – in a single day. This was a remote and magical place where we caught fish, ate paua and wild pork and camped on the one tiny flat spot above the beach. The trip back via the east coast through the maze of gullies and waterfalls was epic.  We lost daylight one night and had to camp on a ridge, followed by many steep sidles and descents through kōkako country to Wreck Bay (Rangiwhakaea Bay).



1Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai Ki Aotea Trust. 2013. Hapū Management Plan.

2Williams, S.  2010. Kokako. In GBICT Environmental News, Issue 23.

3Cook, A. 2013. An investigation into the population size and distribution of tomtit and red-crowned parakeet on Mount Hobson/Hirakimata and the results of five-minute bird counts at four different sites on Great Barrier Island including Te Paparahi. Report to the Great Barrier Island Environment Trust.

4Moore, P.R. & Kenny, J.A. 1985: Geology of north-eastern Great Barrier Island (Needles Point to Rangiwhakaea Bay), New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 15: 235–250.

5Wright, A.E. & Cameron, E.K. 1985.Botanical Features of northeastern Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 15: 251–278.

6Hay, J.R., Douglas, M.E., & Bellingham, P.J. 1985. The North Island kōkako (Callaeas cinerea wilsoni) on northern Great Barrier Island. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 15: 291–293.

7Newman, D.G., & Towns, D.R. 1985. A survey of the herpetofauna of the northern and southern blocks, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 15: 279–287.

8Eadie, F.M. & Broome, K. G. 1990. Ecological survey of Northern Bush, Great Barrier Island 1986/87. Internal report. Auckland, Department of Conservation, Auckland Conservancy. 86 p.

9Towns, D. & McFadden, I. 1993. Threatened Species Recovery Plan Series 5: Chevron Skink, Recovery Plan, February 1993. Department of Conservation Threatened Species Unit.