Aroha Island, a tiny thumb of land that protrudes into the Kerikeri Inlet, is well named. Long ago it was a sanctuary for young Maori girls who went there to be initiated into womanhood. Now it’s a haven for the rare brown kiwi and for motorhome and caravanners who are visiting the Bay of Islands.
The 12-hectare area comprises a thick ring of mangroves surrounding a core of basalt rock laid there from the long-ago eruption of Mt Rangitane. Today, it is the guardians of this gem that bring the love.
Aroha Island is owned by the QEII National Trust and leased to a local trust. It is managed and run entirely by volunteers, who donate thousands of hours each year to its protection and upkeep. This includes the manning of the island’s Ecocentre, running the lodge and two cottages, and the maintenance of the bush, tracks and access road.
Aroha was a true island until 1964 when the then-owner, William Otene Cook, built a causeway to link it to the mainland. We were grateful to him when we visited, as his causeway gave us access to the two areas that have been put aside for campers.
The upper campground is a lovely grassy circle of flat land, embraced by tall native trees. It has 16 powered sites and an immaculate ablution block that was built in 2016 by volunteers.
Through a tunnel of trees is the tree-lined lower ground, stretching out along the water’s edge and overlooking a seascape dotted with oyster farms. There are no powered sites here and large rigs might have difficulty negotiating the overhanging trees at the entrance, but the site is magnificent.
There are good walks around the island by day. To go full circuit only takes about 30 minutes and in the early afternoon we were accompanied by fantail pirouetting through the branches on the sides of the track and the tentative trills of tui.
Much later, in the silent night, we trod the paths again as stealthy as shadows. We were looking for kiwi by torchlight, an expedition that brought us no success. Next time I’ll take a guided night walk. It costs about $40, lasts a couple of hours, and has, it is reckoned, a 50 percent success rate.
If you want something badly enough it sometimes manifests in the mind; and so in the early hours of the morning, when daylight was still just a glimmer on the sea, I heard a repeated noise that sounded like someone on a squeaky swing.
There are no swings on Aroha and so I have convinced myself it was a North Island brown kiwi (male). Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Aroha Island Charitable Trust, 177 Rangitane Road, Kerikeri. 09 4075243, email [email protected]