Straddling an isthmus with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other, it is no surprise that 50 islands surround Auckland’s urban sprawl. However, many are small and unoccupied and are only suitable for gazing at as you sail by. However, many are known to Aucklanders for specific reasons. Rangitoto Island is the city’s most recognized natural landmark. Kawau Island is noted for the mansion Governor Grey built in the early days of European settlement. Tiritiri Matangi Island is noted for the wildlife that flourishes there. Waiheke is an island suburb with close to 9,000 people living there. However, there is an island not far from the CBD that is little known by the majority of those living in Auckland. It is located in the Manukau Harbour. I’ve lived in Auckland for 20 years and have never explored this harbour. I have only glimpsed it on trips to the airport where a bridge crosses it near the modest wharf at Onehunga. I find the western side of Auckland has a somewhat foreboding feel. I have mentioned this in the blog I wrote on Piha Beach. Others have also said they feel uncomfortable in this area too so it’s not just me that is happier staying away from this side of the sprawling city.


The Manukau Harbour mouth is only 1800 metres wide and with the rapid tidal flow, it is dangerous to navigate the bar. A 9km channel from the entrance leads to a 20 km wide basin. There is a tidal variation of up to 4 metres, and on top of this, the harbour is quite shallow making it a challenge for ships that use it to reach the small port at Onehunga. During the 19th century Onehunga was the main port between New Zealand and Britain via South Africa and Australia because it saved several days sailing around North Cape. Coastal steamships also carried virtually all passenger and freight between Auckland and Wellington via Wanganui to Onehunga. Until 1908 a steamer from Onehunga was the fastest means of travel between Auckland and Wellington. Onehunga was also the main route to the South Island, as most shipping routes were shorter via the western coast of the North Island than around the east coast to the Waitematā Harbour.


The dangers of the Manukau Harbour were tragically demonstrated when New Zealand’s worst shipwreck occurred on the harbour’s constantly moving bar on the 7th February 1863 when the 2,635 ton HMS Orpheus ran aground in clear weather with a loss of 189 lives. The ship was carrying 259 men as it ended a voyage from Australia. The captain decided to save time by approaching Auckland via the Manukau Harbour rather than the safe Waitemata Harbour as originally instructed. The average age of the sailors onboard his ship was just 25 years. Some of the boys that drowned that day were no older than 12 years old.

Manukau Harbour (Te Ara)


Located in the Manukau Harbour, Puketutu is the only volcanic island on Auckland’s west side. It once had five volcanic cones, now there is only one because the others were quarried in the 1960s to develop nearby Auckland airport.  ‘The jewel in the Manukau Harbour’ was originally purchased by a Captain Symonds who sold it to Dr. Henry Weekes in 1842. It was known as Weekes Island when it was sold to Sir Logan Campbell, the “father of Auckland”. He held onto it for 43 years before selling it to the Bull family who in turn, sold it to Sir Henry Kelliher in 1938. Sir Henry made his money from alcohol after he established Dominion Breweries. In 1966, he revealed his romantic colonial attitude when he said, “Since my first acquaintance with Robinson Crusoe I have wanted to own an island, and here it is – Puketutu in the Manukau Harbour.”

Puketutu Island (Wikipedia)

The changes Sir Henry brought to Puketutu Island reflected his pride in his pioneering family. He spent a large sum of money re-furbishing the dilapidated Spanish style homestead the Bull family had built. He also surrounded the house with beautifully designed gardens to resemble his parents’ homeland property. Beyond that he cultivated rolling pastureland where pedigree sheep and cattle were bred. Among the horses raised by Sir Henry’s team was Cardigan Bay, still one of the most famous race horses in the world.


Between the 1950s and 80s Puketutu Island was a popular destination for Auckland’s rich and influential. Even Hollywood actress Vivien Leigh, famous for her role in “Gone with the Wind, attended a function there. I once worked with a popular television personality who chose the island for a glitzy wedding. At that time, it was only accessible at high tide by helicopter or boat as the narrow causeway connecting it to the mainland disappeared when the tide was in. I remember wondering where this somewhat romantic island, with its luxuriant gardens and unusual homestead, was actually located.

There is a now a raised causeway permanently connecting Puketutu Island to Auckland so it is not technically an island any longer but even so it is still little known locally. In the past, it was open to the public one day each year. Today, the homestead is marketed as the Kelliher Estate and remains a function centre for weddings and upmarket birthday celebrations. I would class it as one of Auckland’s forgotten islands because if you mention the name to most Aucklanders they would look blankly at you. The island is a cultural icon to Maori and they have approved a plan to make it a regional park. If this eventuates, Puketutu Island will become better known especially among the growing number of people who seek escape from a city that is getting increasingly congested each year as the population races towards 2 million.

If you found this blog interesting, please let me know.

Ceidrik Heward

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