Monthly Archives: April 2024

Limestone Island & Quarry

Limestone Island sits in the middle of the Whangarei river.  Cruisers, container ships, cargo ships, and day sailors continually pass by this once bustling limestone quarry.  The island made primarily of limestone has had a diverse history.  From a war zone to cement factory to nature preserve.  After passing her over a dozen times we decide to stop and explore her history.

In the early 1800’s several Maori tribes fought over possession of the island.  In the mid 1800’s the island was leased from the Maori and Lime works was established.  Then, in 1881 the first batch of Portland Cement was produced in New Zealand (and probably the Southern Hemisphere).  In the early 1900’s, Lime Works employed 270 people until 1918 when most of the equipment and buildings were moved to the main land.  Limestone Island was still quarried for limestone for a number of years.  

In 1965, the Aero Club was allowed to graze cattle on the island.  In 1989, the island was gifted to Whangarei District Council.  This was also when the start of conservation and ecological restoration began.  In 1996, the first rangers cottage was built. Since then, the island has since had over 23,000 trees planted and its become a haven for kiwis, birds, and lizards.

Limestone Island Today

There has been a lot of work to restore native vegetation, stabilize historic structures and provide beautiful walking trails and signage for visitors. The visitor center has two towering tikis with beautiful carving and sea shell eyeballs at its entrance.

Sugar Shack anchored in Shipwreck Bay which was a little disconcerting but a beautiful spot none the less.

In 1968, a very famous pirate radio ship called Tiri ran aground in Whangaparapara. It lost engine power and was then swept onto the rocks.  Later it was laid to rest on the shores of Limestone Island along side another shipwreck.

Today you find towering stacks standing proud, furnaces, kilns, and lots of ruins of what was once a majestic cement factory.

You can walk through the ruins, inside the kilns and around the entire factory which is just a small reminder of what it once was.

We climbed to the top of a hill that overlooked the ruins and you can see Sugar Shack in the anchorage.

The single men’s residence, built in 1874, was just a long building with small, dorm like spaces.  The caretaker’s residence, built in the mid 1800’s, was beautiful and had a fireplace in every room! 

This was once a busy port, but now the enormous dock is in ruins with gaping holes in the structure.

Around the end of the island we found this old, metal conveyor belt that we assumed transported the gravel or cement from land to the ships.  Lower photo is a great example of the beautiful limestone that stands proud on the island to this day.


The only inhabitants are the caretakers, a dozen sheep, and 2 dozen kiwis.  The island has proven to be a tremendous breeding ground for kiwis.  With the removal of stoats and rats, the kiwi eggs and baby chicks thrive.  Once the kiwis reach 1200g they are returned to the mainland.

The Cement Factory in its Prime

I love the diagram which walks you through the life of the limestone.

There is a lovely walking trail that takes you around the entire island during low tide.  It takes about an hour to walk the trail around the edge of the island.  There are several other trails that lead you across the island and around the ruins as well (see map at the top of the post).  The limestone on the trail and the shells were super pretty.

We enjoyed several days at this anchorage where we were able to fully explore this lovely little Limestone Island.

Our blog posts run several weeks behind actual live events.  This blog post occurred around mid-May 2024.  Don’t miss out on our last blog post where we  wander around a beautiful bird sanctuary at Tiritiri.

Tiritiri Matangi: A Sanctuary

Tiritiri Matangi the name of this new island, means “tossed by the wind” or “looking to the wind.”  It is a beautiful island best known for its Tiritiri Light (the oldest working lighthouse) and its natural bird life sanctuary.  The later giving the island its third name the “Bird Island.”

Truth be told, Matt and I are not ornithologists. We enjoy seeing the birds, but are not true bird watchers.  But since we are so close we decided to go see what we could see.

Originally, this island was cleared off for farming and farm animal grazing.  This lasted until the 1970’s which left very little of the original vegetation. In the early 80’s a community based habitat restoration program started transforming the island brining it to its true beauty today, a Scientific Reserve and one of the most successful conservation projects in the world.

Walks and the Reserve

From 1984, the island has been the focus of a wide-scale native forest regeneration project, where over 250,000 native plants have been propagated on the island. The island was chosen as a unique and protected place to provide a public window for rare New Zealand native birds.

There are several trails that traverse across and around the island where visitors can find over eighty-seven species of birds.  Our trail is the yellow line where we started at Hobbs Beach and headed to the right (we accidentally missed the Wattle track).

Tiritiri Matangi

Tiritiri Matangi

We saw so many beautiful birds.  Many we could not identify, many flew away too fast for me to photograph, and some were too far away to capture with my iPhone.  But I got a few!  My favorite birds are the Tui and the Kereru because they are so darn colorful.  We saw two different quail families with their baby chicks. They are so funny to watch.

The Australian Magpie has a beautiful singing voice and the NZ Bellbirds were everywhere!

The trails were a mix of small dirt paths to large open fields, to nicely built wooden bridges.  It is amazing to me that these trees are only 40-50 years old as they seem so majestic already.

The Oldest Working Lighthouse

Built in 1864, this is New Zealand’s oldest working lighthouse and Auckland’s first lighthouse. The Tiritiri lighthouse was shipped from England in 1864, and equipped later with a blindingly bright light of one-million candlepower.  Now it has a 50-watt lamp charged by solar panels.  The light flashes every 15 seconds and can be seen for 18nm.

Its beams stretched over 80 kms!   Over 21m tall, (91m above sea level) and 4.7m in diameter at the base. It has been updated several times, but it continues to protect sailors in this harbor for the past 150 years!

On this site you will also see the signal station (mast) built in 1912, parts of the diaphonic foghorn (1935) and the lighthouse keeper’s house (1918).

We had some beautiful views along our walk.  Yes, that is Sugar Shack in the distance.

Moturekareka, The Home of the Shipwrecked Rewa

Just 3nm from Kawau is a little island called Moturekareka which is the home of a large shipwreck.  We decided to take the dinghy out to see the remains of the once grand Rewa ship. 

When she was built in 1889, the Rewa was called Alice A. Leigh and she was a huge 3,000 ton, 4 masted, steel barque carrying 31 sails!  

Images property pf State Library South Australia and Yardy Yardy Yardy

Images property pf State Library South Australia and Yardy Yardy Yardy

She had many adventures and was a true beauty (see this website for photos and her full history).  In 1920, she was sold to a NZ company and was renamed “Rewa.”  In 1922 she was put on a mooring and left to rot for 10 years.  Then an young entrepreneur decided he wanted to convert the old ship into a luxurious drinking and gambling establishment.  He had it towed to Moturekareka where he had hoped to position her to sit across the bay during high tide.  However, things did not go well for them and she sank into the position where she rests today. 

It is so very sad to see shipwrecks yet we are drawn to them.  It is amazing to see what the ocean and weather and time do to steel!  Just a small shell of its former glory remains and unbelievably there was no sea life around it.  No fish, no coral, nothing.  

And yes, Matt had to drive our dinghy into the bow of the Rewa because …. well because he could.

Our blog runs 10-12 weeks behind live events.  This blog post occurred around the end of February.  We explore the island of Kawau in our last blog post where we find a Coppermine and smelting house!

Kawau Island

We had winds shifting out of the North so we decided to leave the pretty little island of Rakino and head to Kawau Island.  There are several bays to anchor within Bon Accord Harbour but we dropped the hook in Shark’s Bay all by ourselves.  Bon Accord Harbour is the large bay that nearly bisects the island into two.

Kawau has a very interesting history from cannibalism to a high end resort and a brewery.  Over 90% of the 5,000 acres are privately owned.  We visit the remaining 10% which is owned by DOC (Department of Conservation).

Mansion Bay

The most famous anchorage on Kawau is Mansion Bay which has a very rich and diverse history.  The house was originally built for the copper mine superintendent on the island.  It was later purchased by a Sir George Grey, the Governor who spent a fortune developing the home and island from 1862 to 1888.  The jetty is thought to be the oldest surviving jetty in NZ!

Many exotic animals were introduced to the island including peacocks and wallabies which are still roaming the island today.  We did spot one baby wallaby on our walk and he just stated at us – see our Instagram (svSugarShack) for the video as it is too cute!

Sir Gray hosted many notable royals, famously wealthy people and local and national politicians.  The house and the jetty are Category 1 registration for historic preservation.  He owned the house from 1862-1870 and then sold it.  The house went through several owners, was converted into a bed and breakfast before a brewery bought it and subsequently sold it.  It gained popularity during  1951 and 1975 when the property was run as a vacation resort. 

Many cruisers would come ashore, purchase liquor from the brewery and go back to their boats.  When the bottles were empty, they would break the glass and dump it into the bay.  75 barge loads of broken glass were removed when they dredged the bay!

Tour through the Mansion

I took a self-guided tour through the mansion and was pleasantly surprised by the antiques inside.  I start at the parlor where I come across a square piano from the 1800’s!  Then I pass through the dining room, the kitchen and the glass floor showcasing the cellar.

The house boasts of 33 rooms but only a handful are accessible to the public.  I visited the library which only has a small portion of Sir Grey’s books.  Several bedrooms and a children’s sitting room full of toys from the 1800s.

A few old photos were on display which I could not resist sharing with you.

Walks Around Kawau

There are several trails along the property which we decided to explore.   We start at Mansion House Bay, walk to Momona Point, then past Farmer Bay to Ladies Bay, then down to Dispute Cove and on to the old Coppermine.  We returned via the Redwood track to Two House Bay and back to Mansion House Bay.  Matt and I basically followed the entire dotted line/track in the upper photo.

Ladys Bay

This beautiful little spot was once a swimming spot for ladies only. It is truly beautiful and it is a shame that it is contaminated with asbestos debris (bottom two photos).  The top right photo is Matt at Momona Point.

For some reason, many of the trails had “danger” signs making most of the trails inaccessible.  Well, we were not going to have any of that!  We asked a few of the workers on the grounds and they said that we could go as long as we knew we entered at our own risk.  A massive storm took out a lot of trees so the Momona Point Trail and the Redwood Track were both “closed” but we went anyway.

We were very careful, don’t worry.  As you can see we had to climb over and under a lot of fallen trees which were simply heartbreaking to see.

The Accidental Coppermine

Copper was accidentally found on Kawau Island and was mined from 1844 to June 1852.  The copper ore became too difficult to extract, because most of the mine workings were below sea level and had to be constantly pumped free of water.

The Coppermine sandstone building housed the steam engine and pump in 1854 which kept the mine free of water. You can see the copper (blue) in the rocks (top left photo) which are gorgeous blues!

We come across two of the of the mine shafts.  You could go inside one but we did not have a torch and then we encountered a gate stopping our progress.

On the way back, on the Redwood Track we encountered the one beautiful and towering redwood tree!  We also find the funniest mode of transportation – a floating picnic bench.

Smelting House

There were problems with the combustion ore during the sea voyage to Australia or Wales, so they built a smelting house in another bay off Bon Accord Harbour.  It opened in 1849 and was NZ first smelting house.  The smelter stopped working properly in 1855 and was closed shortly after that.

The walls were unstable so the entire structure is blocked off by a fence.

Kawau Boating Club

Near the Smelting House is the Kawau Boating club.  Matt and I decided to have a light lunch with them prior to exploring the smelting house.

Spit of Sand

We passed Beehive Island (Taungamaro Island) which is a small spit of an island surrounded by a little beach and a much larger reef.  At high tide all you see if the pretty beach surrounding the mound of land.  But at low tide you are gifted with the beautiful lava formations.

On approach you see the reef below through the crystal clear waters.  It was simply gorgeous.

The beach was actually covered in shells, but at low tide when the lava rock and reef bed are exposed it was super pretty.  It was really cool to see the rock formations and variations in color.  These little red eyed birds were showing us around.

Our blog posts run 10-12 weeks behind live events.  This blog occurred during late February.  We party with a Kiwi and a Scot and make merry sailing around Waiheke Island.