33. Motukorea/Browns Island

Browns Island

Browns Island Motukorea from satellite (thanks Google)

Kayaking to this Hauraki Gulf jewel is a big part of the adventure, but once ashore the fun never stops. An instant favourite I hope to visit again someday.

Browns Island is so named for William Brown who together with John Logan Campbell purchased the island in 1840 from Nagi Tai chiefs. Motukorea means island of the oystercatcher but ironically the only oystercatcher I saw was patrolling St Heliers beach.

I was so excited to finally be going on this trip. I was more than half way through my volcanic explorations and I still didn’t know if I’d be able to complete them all as this one is only accessible by boat and I don’t have a boat. Luckily one of my friends has access to some kayaks and what’s more, had already kayaked to Motukorea a couple times. Another two friends brought the total of our group to 4 and we were off! We had a fairly late morning start as we’d waited around hoping the weather would improve a bit and it did. The sea was still a bit choppy though; I wouldn’t have wanted it any rougher. Did I mention that I hadn’t been out in a kayak for almost a decade. Thrilling!!

As we rounded Achilles Point, Browns Island lay ahead of us looking something like the following photos (photo credit to my Dad, these were taken on a ferry trip some months later)


Motukorea Brown’s Island


The beach where we landed (right of centre)

The sea conditions were a bit tougher than I’d hoped for and we were starting to tire so we abandoned the plan to land the best beach on the north side of the island and instead just aim for the closest bit of land on the west. Boy was it a relief to contact solid ground after an hour (and a bit?) on the water. The last kilometre before we landed we could look down and see parts of the basalt lava flow underneath us.


View south


View north


The “sand” on Motukorea’s western beach

We dragged the kayaks above high tide level, dried off, then the plan was to find a place to picnic and head to the north side of the island.


Overlooking the bay to the north


The bay just north of where we landed (spot the tractor and stone wharf)


Basalt and scoria rocks


Remains of an old steam engine (tractor?)


Stone wharf built in the late 1800’s

The island saw boat-loads of day-trippers between 1900 and 1940 thanks to the Alison family, the then current owners who also held shares in the Devonport Steam Ferry Company. Maybe this is where they landed for their picnics? There are a couple of welcome signs. Nothing we didn’t already know. Walkers, picnickers and birds are A Okay. Camping, dogs and fires are not permitted.


Low tide by the old stone wharf

Once you start seeing signs of past human occupation you can’t stop. Above are just some of the old bricks washed up on the beach, pretending to be rocks.


Yes, that is an hibiscus flower in bud on one large and windswept tree

The hibiscus tree was startling find, just sitting out there in the open all on it’s lonesome. Then there are the swamped gates and dry stone walls.


The grass grows knee-high or thigh-high depending on how tall you are


It’s easy to get tangled up in the long grass

The photo above shows what I assumed was the side of the main crater but is actually the western scoria knoll (which was a separate fortified pa in pre-European times).

We decided those trees over yonder would be the perfect place for a picnic for shade, as the sun had now come to the party, and shelter from the wind, as that showed no sign of letting up. We decided against splashing directly across the creek and turned right instead and rounded the end of the creek pretty soon. I wish now that we had turned left and crossed around the other side as then we would’ve seen the collapsed lava cave at the end.


Exploring Danyal creek on the northwest of the island


Looking back on the head of Danyal creek


Sculptural elements on the island (spot the gate? It’s hiding under some rather long grass)


Dry stone wall of one of the old farmhouses


Our picnic spot under the shady trees

We noticed an interesting pattern covering the dead logs which looked as if some critter had got under the bark and had a good old munch then the bark had peeled off to reveal it’s artistry. Whilst I was investigating the phenomenon, this moth landed on me. I wonder, is this the culprit?



Only after our picnic did we look up and see what was swaying in the wind far above our heads


Looking back at one of the old homesteads


Reaching the north coastline


Pic’n’mix of rocks on the northern shore

So many rocks to photograph! This is just a tiny selection.

Did you know there is a mineral (Motokoreaite) named after this island? This was the first place it was discovered. Na2Mg38Al24(CO3)13(SO4)8(OH)108•56(H2O) has been described as occurring in “rim cement in volcanic breccias in weathered submarine environments” and forms as a low-temperature alteration product during seawater-basaltic glass interaction.

It was first called beach limestone in 1941 and formally described as recently as 1977. I knew I was looking for a whitish, insignificant deposit type of substance that occurs as clay-like cement or hexagonal tabular crystals up to 0.2 mm. Do you think I found it?


Don’t let that crab distract you from deposits of “beach limestone”

I’d been looking down, so focused on maybe finding Motukoreaite and when I looked up I saw this picture postcard perfect vista across what is known as crater bay which is not a crater at all but just where the sea has pounded away at the tuff ring. Rangitoto all but put a stop to that when it erupted about 600 years ago thus protecting Motukorea from the harshest waves.


View of “crater” bay on the northeastern side of the island


Another welcome!


Someone has been here before us


The northeastern cliffs

That’s as far as we got along the coastline for time was marching and I still really, really wanted to reach the summit.

This is the scoria that landed on top of the tuff ring cliffs in the final stages of fire-fountaining which is also responsible for building the main scoria cone. I was so grateful for the stairs but, in actual fact, I think they are more there to protect against erosion of the crumbly scoria. It’s so soft a leaf falling from a tree above could dislodge a piece of scoria.


Looking back to the northern point where the steps come out


Rangitoto looking fine today


Looking southwest across the main crater

Lets take a moment to remember the saviours of Browns Island. Mayors Dove-Myer Robinson who spear-headed the campaign to use Mangere Lagoon for a waste-water treatment plant instead of Motukorea and Sir Ernest Davies who purchased then gifted the island to the people of Auckland in 1955


Looking back to the north cliffs from (almost) the highest point


Looking a bit windswept but we made it


Strong updraught coming out of the crater




Some dry earth exposed on a steeper part of the track down


Some sort of reservoir in front of the western scoria knoll


Musick point across the water from the south coast of Motukorea

Motukorea used to be connected to the mainland at this point when the sea level was lower. In fact when the volcano first erupted it did so in a tree-lined river valley. Browns Island holds the distinction of being the only volcano in the Auckland volcanic field to exhibit all 3 types of lava erupting activity: the initial shallow blast crater and tuff ring, the dense basalt lava flows that form a reef around the western side, and finally, the scoria cones formed by dry fire-fountaining.


About to push off from Motukorea’s west shore. Glover Park above the cliffs (left) City and Maungauika (right)

I really wish I could’ve stayed here longer and explore a bit more but we needed to get going while the going was good.


Looking out to sea from St Heliers Beach (Brown’s Island hidden behind Achilles Point)


The “sand” on St Heliers Beach


Packing away the kayaks on St Heliers beach

What a great day! In case you can’t tell I had a blast and would definitely recommend more people check out this volcano. It’s safe to say that it’s my favourite one so far.