By Maureen Young
Stored in the archives of the Warkworth and Districts Museum are several old maps of the Mahurangi River mouth showing a small islet bearing the name Cowdie Island, Motu Cowdie or Motu Kauri. It is intriguing that kauri would ever have grown on what is now known as Grants Island, a steep, dry little islet topped by tall, rangy old pines trees, but the old names point to it having been there once. The island would originally have been connected to the mainland and the pre-European vegetation of the mainland would have persisted on the island for some time. A visit to satisfy my botanical curiosity showed that there were 14 species of native plants there, making up 37 per cent of the flora. The most common of these was the coastal five-finger, and also included were mangroves growing on the wave platform.
William “Tar” Grant was a Scotsman who arrived on the Mahurangi in 1842. He worked as a sawyer and built two ships on the beach near the island that bears his name. He purchased the land there and turned to farming, but there is no indication that he actually owned the island. He married a local Maori woman and founded a well-known local family.
Some interesting facts about Motu Kauri are found in the book Jade River, written by R.H. Locker. A young lady who visited the island in 1888, while waiting for the Rose Casey (the steamer plying the Auckland to Mahurangi route) observed, “There are three graves on the top of this island where some shipwrecked people are buried”.