Historic Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka was described by du Fresne, in 1772, as containing villages fortified by palisades. It was occupied by Ngare Raumati before and after European settlement and was taken over by Ngapuhi in the early 19th century. Several kaainga were located on the island at this time. Late in the 19th century the island was developed for grazing. In 1927 the author Zane Grey began to use it as a base for game fishing and it subsequently became a world-famous fishing resort. The Crown acquired the island in 1970.

View of Urupukapuka Island. Photo: DOC.
Urupukapuka Island


Urupukapuka Island Recreation Reserve, Bay of Islands, Northland Department of Conservation.


Urupukapuka Island is the largest island in the Bay of Islands and is historically important with a rich archaeological landscape. A total of 66 archaeological sites have already been identified on the 208ha island and there are many more on adjacent islets. Most date from hundreds of years of Maori settlement prior to European arrival. Sites relating to Maori include eight pa, village sites, gardens, and food storage and generally most are in good condition. The ‘Urupukapuka Island Archaeological walk’ allows visitors to view and interpret some of the island’s more dramatic archaeological sites.

Early twentieth century use of the island focused on farming and recreation and many buildings and structures relating to this period survive. All are in Otehei bay and many were part of the famous Zane Grey fishing camp.


Before European’s arrived the Bay of Islands was a populous place with a complex political, ancestral, and cultural history. Maori stories tell of a long settlement on Urupukapuka relating to Ngare Raumati, Ngatiawa, Ngati wai, and Ngapuhi sub tribes and hapu.

A 1772 plan of the Bay of Islands made by the French expedition, led by du Fresne, shows a village on Urupukapuka fortified by palisades.

Late in the 19th century the island was developed for grazing by European lessees and was eventually sold by its Maori shareholders early in the twentieth century. While farming continued the island also became a recreational focus for visitors to the bay. In 1927 the author Zane Grey began to use Otehei Bay as a base for game fishing. Grey was an internationally influential character and the maritime recreation activities now central to the Bay of Islands were pioneered at his Urupukapuka resort. The Crown acquired the island in 1970.

Fabric significance

Urupukapuka is a well-preserved archaeological complex, representative of Maori settlement on both the islands and mainland of the Bay of Islands. It’s significance lies in the unique density and variety of sites, located on an easily accessible public reserve island with outstanding scenic qualities.

Urupukapuka Island map. View a larger version of the Urupukapuka Island map (112K)
Map of Urupukapuka Island

The twentieth century landscape of Otehei Bay is unique because of the remaining buildings of the Zane Grey camp and lodge. The other buildings are representative examples of vernacular building types now becoming rare in coastal northland settings.

Historic significance

The island is a place of long Maori occupation, with many layers of historical association. Archaeological evidence indicates that Urupukapuka was pivotal to the economy and politics of the Bay of Islands in pre-European times.

Historic value of the Otehei Bay buildings and camp is enhanced by a wealth of documentation dating from the early 1930s.

All archaeological sites are protected under the Historic Places Act 1993. It is an offense to destroy, damage or modify sites without an Authority from the Historic Places Trust.

Cultural significance

Because of tangata whenua and whakapapa ties, and its rich history, Urupukapuka Island is a place of high cultural significance to Maori from many hapu. A close relationship with the island is continued by several communities including those at Te Rawhiti. For the wider community Urupukapuka has strong associations as a scenic recreational destination for their enjoyment of the Bay of Islands.

Related links

back to top