Ok, confession time. I have lived in Wellington for all 37 (nearly 38) years of my life and never once have I been to Matiu/Somes Island.
Today that changes.
Matiu/Somes Island is located in the middle of Wellington Harbour and has a really rich Maori and European history. For generations, Maori have used the island as a pa (hillfort) As the island is only accessible by waka (boat) it was easy to secure and defend. Te Atiawa iwi (tribe) still have guardianship of the island today.
It has been used for human quarantine from the late 19th / early 20th century as well as animal quarantine. During WW1 and WW2, the island was a camp for enemy alien internees who were considered a security threat. Due to it’s position and view points gun emplacements were built on the top of the Island in 1942, but fortunately were never needed. At the top of the island there is a small museum that delves into the history of Matiu/Somes.
Today, it is a scientific and historic reserve and home to some pretty awesome native wildlife.
Lets go explore!
It is perfect weather, I can’t believe my luck. It’s not often you get a wind free day in Wellington. A 25 minute scenic boat trip on the East by West Ferry has me out there in no time. The sun is warm on my skin and I breath in the fresh salt air. Seagulls follow alongside the boat, occasionally swooping down to catch a fish. Wellington city gets smaller and smaller behind me. Today I am trading in city life for an island, even if it is only for a few hours.
We are welcomed onto the island by DOC (Department of Conservation) staff and then go through a Health & Safety briefing and Bio Security. Matiu/Somes Island is predator free. To keep the native flora and fauna safe, we check our bags, pockets and clean our shoes to make sure we are not bringing anything onto the island that we shouldn’t be. My shoes were rather dirty so it takes me a while to scrape out all the mud stuck in the tread of my shoes.
Bio Security done, it’s time for an adventure.
My first impressions are the trees on the island look pretty windswept. They must get quite a hammering on this side of the island. The seagulls are huge and rather noisy. They circle above me, effortlessly gliding in the wind. And the cicadas! I haven’t heard them much this season and certainly not at this volume, their chorus is loud but they are a welcomed sound of Summer.
Most of the shoreline is protected, it’s home to our little blue penguins, along with other sea birds and seals so we don’t want to be disturbing them. There is a short section of the shoreline that can be walked, so this is where I head first. I pass native flax, toi toi and pohutakawa before finding a sunny space next the the waters edge where I sit, watch and listen for a few minutes. I always find the oceans become alive when you take the time to sit and watch.
Seagulls are cliff diving against brilliant blue skies. The gentle, lapping sound of the waves moves to the rhythm of my soul. I always find this sound so peaceful.
I then take a walk up through forest, heading towards the top of the island. And there, something incredible happens. I get the privilege of seeing a Tuatara in the wild. Tuatara are a type of reptile found only in New Zealand. While they look a bit like a big lizard (they are New Zealand’s largest lizard), they are actually part of the Sphenodontia family which dates back to the dinosaurs. They are the only surviving species from this group.
They are the most magnificent creatures. To look into the depth of a Tuatara’s eyes is a humbling experience. It was such an honor. They are old souls that give us a glimpse into life long ago. It is such a privilege to see one of these creatures in the wild. They can live up to 100 years, I wonder how old this Tuatara is?
After I manage to tear myself away from watching the Tuatara (doing absolutely nothing but it was still mesmerising), I find myself a quiet picnic bench overlooking the lighthouse with views out to Wellington City. Its a different perspective seeing Wellington from here. It’s a pretty city, compact and framed against blue water and green hills.
A simple pleasure in life is just to sit, to be, amongst nature, absorbing your surroundings with no agenda, nowhere to be, nothing that needs doing. So that’s what I do.
And it is wonderful.
After lunch I continue exploring the island on the loop walk. I hear lots of rustling leaves as I make my way around the island. It’s the little lizards getting out in the sun to warm themselves but they dart back into the safety of the bush when they hear me coming. It’s the common skinks that I see, but never have I seen any this big before.
At a high look out point, I look over the edge and find I am looking down on the birds flying around. I am used to looking up at them and it’s a unique experience to view them from above. The sea along the shoreline is so clear and then fades into brilliant jewel colours.
I have one last stop to make before heading home – the very top of the island. I think the seagulls must be nesting. I meet some very stroppy ones, squawking at me, telling me to go away. One even circled me and began swooping down at me.
At the top I am rewarded with incredible 360 degree views. I can see why this site was chosen for gun emplacements. Some of them still remain today, in various conditions. I find the rooms a bit creepy actually and only stand at the entrance, not wanting to go inside. Maybe it’s the way my footsteps echo off the concrete walls.
It’s time to head back down to the wharf to catch the ferry back home. Matiu/Somes island is such a treasure. A pearl of Wellington. I can’t believe it took me this long to visit, but I am so glad that I did!