December 2023 Newsletter

December 2023 Newsletter

Tuis in Pohutukawa taken by Benj Brooking

During December, although none of the traditional volunteer trips made it to the island there were a variety of other trips and Motuihe was a very busy place with trips to fix the tractor and the tractor shed, trips for nursery work, Tieke track maintenance, plant and wildlife monitoring and heritage work. A total of 38 adult volunteers were involved in keeping the Motuihe project moving ahead.

Upcoming volunteer trips
Sundays: 21 January, 18 February, 17 March
Contact Fiona on

Mid week trips: Thursday 18 January, Wednesday 28 February 
Contact Simon on

AGM of the Motuihe Trust and Chairman's Report
On Tuesday evening the 5 December the AGM of the Motuihe Trust was held at the Outboard Boating Club. 
John Laurence was appointed chairman
Michael Wood Secretary
Matt Baber
Matt Ewen
Jon Hind
Stuart Macintosh
Max Smitheram
Julie Thomson
Peter Whitmore
Lois Badham was voted on to the Board
There is no treasurer at present.
The audited accounts were approved.

Chairman's Report for the year ended 30 June 2023 SUMMARIZED
To read the full report go to
It is a pleasure to report that the Trust and volunteers have had a very productive and busy year, despite the wharf being closed for half the year. The growth in trees and the expanding number of birds, tuataras and geckos has been wonderful to experience.
Funding: Foundation North have continued to be the main financial supporter of the activities of the Trust and we are extremely grateful for their long term and significant financial support. NZ Lotteries Grant Board approved a grant for weed control
Operations manager: In June 2023 the trustees engaged Jill Soufflot as Operations Manager on a paid part-time contractor basis to lead a range of activities, 
Transport Dreamweaver, Sea Shuttles water taxi, DOC and OBC members have provided transport while the wharf was closed. Now that it has reopened The Redboats are providing a regular service over the summer.
Wharf The wharf was closed for safety reasons after cyclone Gabrielle. According to DOC the wharf has a few more years and then it will be demolished and not replaced. The Trustees have requested that the wharf be regularly maintained so that it did not fall into demolishment status. 
Walking Tracks The Tieke track takes visitors into the middle of the western forest remnants. A hardy team of volunteers has maintained the track by keeping the drains clear and the surface clear of weeds. In addition 3 km of track clearance work was accomplished. 
Volunteer Activities Julie Thomson has led enthusiastic teams to monitor the wildlife and her data shows that kiwis have increased. They have also monitored wetapunga, reptiles and geckos all of which appear to be thriving on the island.
1,234 volunteers on 24 trips visited the island mid week organized by Simon Sheen. A huge amount of planting, weeding, track maintenance and nursery work was achieved.
322 volunteers on 13 trips visited the island on Sundays. Many of these volunteers were international students.
Planting The planting season started on 31 March and ended on 13 August with 1,915 trees planted.
Nursery There are apprx. 4,000 plants, mainly canopy species, that should be ready to go out during the next planting season. 
Weed control Mothplant and rhamnus plants have been reduced to almost manageable numbers. However, a noticeable increase in large woolly nightshade and gorse is a concern. 
Biodiversity One of the highlights has been the number of new young volunteers who have become regular members of the wildlife monitoring teams. Bella Burgess prepared a report on Fungi on Motuihe and launched a programme for citizen scientists to upload photos to iNaturalist. During the year the Trust applied for a grant to grow rare and endangered plants on Motuihe Island. The application was successful. 
Relationship with Iwi The Trust continues to develop our long-standing relationships with iwi of Te Motu-a-Ihenga; Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Paoa, and Marutūāhu, who are kaitiaki of the motu. 
Governance The Trust worked on the three year Strategic Plan, primarily
1 Demonstrably improved diversity of native flora and fauna on land, shore and reefs
2 Largely free of problem weeds, free of animal pests.
3 Citizen Science progammes monitoring precious species. 
Conservation advocacy Through the operation of the Information Kiosk during the summer, maintaining an active and informative website, and circulating monthly reports. 
A huge thank you to everyone who helped make a difference.
The Motuihe Trust came into existence on 12 October 2000. Much has been accomplished and the fruits of the conservation programme are now becoming visible for all to experience.
Looking ahead it is proposed that more volunteers are given opportunities to lead and be involved with an extended range of conservation initiatives on Motuihe which are of particular interest to them. This includes the rare plant project, fluttering shearwater project, penguin monitoring, dotterel monitoring, five minute bird counts, fungi monitoring, tuatara monitoring, fresh water monitoring and sand dune restoration. 
John Laurence
5 December 2023

Weeding leadership training
Mike Sumner is going to provide leadership training for weeding groups on Sunday 21 January. The training will cover safety, the use of equipment and the gel used to cover cuts etc. Please let Jill Soufflot know if you are interested on

Summer contractors 2023 2024
We welcome our new summer contractors, Robin Hagan and Helena Wright. They have both come from the Environmental Management course in Tauranga. Robin has completed his first year and Helena has graduated with a degree in Applied Science. We hope they enjoy their time on Motuihe.

Ethel Browning Grave Restoration
Ethel volunteered to nurse flu patients during the 1918 flu epidemic when Motuihe was a quarantine station. She caught the flu and died and is buried in the little cemetery on the island. The text on her grave was almost impossible to read and therefore her story could have been lost. It has taken a community effort to restore her grave involving Ethel's Great Niece Patsy, the Department of Conservation, the Motuihe Trust and a large group of Motuihe Island supporters. Thank you everyone for your contributions to this project, particularly Margaret Freeman who helped me to clean and paint the grave and to the plaque installation team, Lois Badham, Paul Taylor, my daughter Helen and Phil Francis who drove the tractor.
Fiona Alexander
Grave in April after the worst of the moss was scraped off

Grave in December after the clean up and installation of the plaque.

Kiosk Repaint
The kiosk is looking very smart after a repaint by Ulrike's nephew Julian Stephan and his friend David.

Phil used the tractor and trailer to efficiently move 6 bags of potting mix from the block to the nursery.

Rare plants project
After the success of the kakabeak project, the Trust has been granted funds to save other rare plants. This project is led by Shelley Heiss-Dunlop and Bella Burgess. They have started with two plants that live on sand dunes.

Shelley working on the rare plants.


Scandia rosifolia


7 December Dreamweaver cancelled due to boat problems.

Trail camera card swap trip   Friday 8 December (+overnight)
Team:  Jackie Rutherford, Julie Thomson, Indi Mallinder, Chris Challinor, Joce Service, Tyson Williams,  Jill Soufflot and new recruit, Conor Willy.
To complete the final camera card swap for 2023, our team had to also sign up for the two day annual gecko survey (Dec 9-10), so that we achieved a “two-for-the-price-of-one” deal with Auckland Sea Shuttles. The gorgeous weather over the 3 days made this a rewarding decision. Some of our experienced crew had trouble finding some cameras because of the lush spring grass/weed growth obscuring tracks and landmarks. However, the spring songs and antics of massed tui, tieke and kakariki more than compensated.
We checked 12 cameras, spread between the headland, Tieke track, Pa site to Calypso Bay, Von Luckner’s gully and Bald knob. These cameras are set up at sites where we have observed kiwis using the burrows for breeding. The 10second videos give us very good information on the survival, health and breeding success of 12 pairs of the Little Spotted Kiwis (40 founder birds translocated from Kapiti Island in 2009 and 2010). The DOC volunteer island minder, Louise, was very supportive and the extra hour of power that she supplied was used to complete a “quick scan” of 10 of the camera cards by 10pm. We will complete a more careful scan and record of the camera data in the new year.
Quick scan results:
•    No human interference at any sites. (Previously, human interference at Tuatara burrow detected in June 2023 at 2am)
•    Large tuatara normally resident at burrow where human interference occurred is detected for first time in November 2023
•    Burrows at Headland, Tieke ext, and Calypso Bay being used exclusively by pair of mating and nest-building penguins.
•    Burrow near bald knob (Kiwi HQ) now has resident Paradise duck pair with eggs, as well as kiwi pair.
•    New kiwi pair mating and using new burrow at Pa site. Both (no bands) – born on Motuihe.
•    2 sites have the usual kiwi pair attempting to enter burrow but leaving due to presence of tuatara.
•    Founder male LSK in von Luckners bush seems to be without his female founder partner. (Female founder LSK found dead in VL bush in May 2023 following cyclone.)
•    Remaining burrow sites have the usual kiwi pair engaged in mating and nesting behaviours.
The level of interference by other species at these burrow sites seems higher than usual, so we are looking for displaced kiwi burrow sites for our cameras. If anyone spots a likely “kiwi burrow” during your work on Motuihe, please let Julie or Jackie know.    or

Camera photos above, Penguins take over the Tieke Ext. site and Male founder LSK checks burrow at Kiwi HQ site near Bald Knob. 

Annual Gecko survey by reptile monitoring team  December 9-10   2023
Team:     Julie Thomson           Jackie Rutherford        
                Kate Feickert            Hong Yao Lim             
                Indi Mallinder            Conor Willy                  
                Ian Westwood           Joce Service
                Tyson Williams          Jill Soufflot
                Chris Challinor          Cleone Guy
                Katie Vanderstock     Sam Sutton
                Martin Draffin            Cage Cardon

This skilful and experienced team enjoyed the perfect weather and the preparation done by the maintenance team in October (many of the same suspects.) They managed to bait all 106 Trakka tunnels with banana on the Saturday and had time for a swim and/or other monitoring tasks when they finished. Saturday evening was still and warm. Our wētāpunga spotlighting team saw 7 adults in Disaster Gully and the spotlighting group on the Tieke track were tripping over Tuatara (9 seen along full length of Tieke track). Kate Feickert led a small group of us on a special mission to find some Pacific geckos by spotlighting. We discovered some small and delicate skins on a huge pohutukawa near their release site which may be a sign of some juveniles.
For the huge task of checking all the 106 stations for gecko presence in the refuges and footprints in the trakka tunnels, our team was very efficient again. Their amazing photography and accurate recording of all the data has made it possible to collate, verify and transfer the data to a spreadsheet in record time.
The data tables and photos below are a brief summary of our reassuring detections of all three gecko species which were translocated to Motuihe in 2013 and 2014.

Duvaucel/Pacific Grid:
Tracking rates in tunnels -                                          
Year                       2023    2022
Duvaucel geckos    39%    19%
Pacific geckos          8%    0%          
Total numbers of geckos seen in ACO’s + CFC’s
Year                         2023    2022
Duvaucel geckos     26         10 
Pacific geckos         7            2
Raukawa Grid:
Raukawa geckos continue to thrive. They are detected in increasing numbers by both monitoring tools.
Year                                         2023    2022
Tracking rate                            58%    22%
Total numbers seen in ACO’s    196    163

Thank you to the Reptile Team, the DOC staff who mowed the tracks and supplied the power, Phil who transported our gear, the Trustees and volunteers who support our funding and keep Motuihe pest free.
Have a great holiday,     Julie Thomson

Adult Duvaucel gecko photo Sam sutton