Tapora School children, representatives of the IKHMG and Tapora Landcare Group, and the Taumata Council of Elders gathered for a planting day at Manukapua.
The handover of Manukapua (Big Sand Island), in the Kaipara Harbour, to Māori is before the Crown.
The Taumata Council of Elders of hapū Te Uri o Hau, the Tapora Landcare Group, the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group (IKHMG) and children of Tapora School gathered at Manukapua Reserve for an update on its restoration last month.
It is hoped that transferring the island’s ownership to iwi will invigorate the restoration project by providing access to Māori-based funding and creating a groundswell of public support.
Tapora farmer Earle Wright says the restoration is a personal issue for him because he and his brother are among the last remaining Māori on the Okahukura Peninsula.
“As the island continued to degrade and land use changed in the area, we were concerned that we would lose our identity as Māori,” he says.
But he says the Crown has recognised its mahi has been lacking on the spiritually significant site, and that community groups and hapu can take charge of the restoration.
Since receiving $100,000 from the Department of Conservation two years ago, the community has cleared five hectares of dense gorse and pampas and planted 13,000 native trees.
Signs have been erected stopping people from lighting fires in the reserve or driving four-wheel-drive vehicles over the island, which is monitored by resident kaitiaki (guardians).
For Ngāti Whātua iwi and Te Uri o Hau hapū it is the start of a reversal of more than 100 years of degradation of a site of immense spiritual significance.
The island was the landing site of a waka named Mahuhu-ki-te-rangi in 1350 and is considered the birthplace of the iwi and hapū.
The island once extended all the way to the mouth of the harbour, providing a safe landing spot, but was significantly eroded by a tsunami.
In 2013, it was ravaged by fire, which removed all the vegetation and allowed it to be taken over by pampas and gorse.
Tapora School students have got behind the restoration project after successfully planting wetlands on the Okahukura Peninsula, resulting in the return of endangered bittern.
At the meeting last month, they planted 950 native seedlings at Manukapua. The oldest and the youngest students were paired up to allow their knowledge to be passed down.
Teacher Michelle Carmichael says the trees planted in the first planting days on other sites are now taller than the children who planted them.
Meanwhile, IKHMG lead field adviser Kathryne Easton says pilot projects are underway for the $100 million government-funded Kaipara clean-up programme aimed at reducing sediment in waterways that feed into the harbour.
She says the IKHMG has been working to understand how it can get the best value for money and that details on how landowners can apply for grants should be made available in coming months.