Hauturu - An accidental voyage to Eden

A glorious Labour Weekend was forecast. Our plan was to spend the night at Vivian Bay on Kawau in our 12-metre yacht and then head to Great Barrier Island on Saturday morning to join the other Sandspit Yacht Club boats. However, seeing the Coastal Classic race frontrunners going past Takatu was too exciting for the skipper, so we headed on out to watch them sail north in a light north-easterly. Having then motored a good way out from our intended anchorage, it seemed pointless to return, so we headed on. There was enough breeze to tickle the waves, encouraging the seabirds of the Gulf to be out in force – fluttering shearwater, fairy prion, Buller's shearwater, white-faced storm petrel, gannets and Cook's petrel – just returned from their annual migration to the northern hemisphere.

A view of Te Titoki Point, Hauturu – a good place to drop anchor.
A view of Te Titoki Point, Hauturu – a good place to drop anchor.

As we came into the lee of Hauturu, the breeze disappeared and we were tempted to anchor there in the calm water. The ocean was so clear we could see the snake of our anchor and chain on the sandy bottom, through a soup of salp and water chestnuts floating on the surface at the whim of the wind and currents. Beside us, the birds kept up an endless chorus on shore. We could not land of course, having arranged no permit or quarantine, but having not seen the island rangers and their families for several months, we alerted them to our presence and were later joined by several members – either on kayak or in wetsuits – and managed to catch up on island news. As evening fell, clouds tumbled over the ridge tops forming a misty haze on the peaks, moistening the cloud forest of ferns and mosses.

As the dusk deepened, we could hear numbers of kaka screeching high above and the “oohing” and “aahing” of little blue penguins heading for shore after a day's fishing. The chatter of the Cook's petrels was almost deafening for an hour or so after dark, as they flew over us to their nests high on the hillsides among the forest trees.

Daybreak was heralded with greetings from the tui, then bellbirds, kaka and others, followed shortly by the haunting song of the kokako. The ocean was so calm between us and the island that the boulders and ancient pohutukawa were reflected in its surface.

As the day brightened, the birdsong remained but the noises and sights of the day entered. A keen member of the weed team on the island went for a morning swim, watched by others from the shore. Two yachts ghosted past in the distance. Runabouts and launches appeared, almost drowning the sound of the birdsong. Gannets cruised above, plummeting into the depths. A shag headed out from its guano-covered tree on the nearby cliff.

After soaking up these morning sights and sounds, we headed for our destination – Fitzroy Harbour on Great Barrier Island. It too is a dramatic forest-clad island with trees ringing the shoreline. A lone tui calls to us and a small group of kaka fly above. We miss the rich swell of Hauturu's birdsong.

Lyn Wade, Little Barrier Island Supporters Trust