Moturua Island Track

Moturua Island Track

Your Nature Guide

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Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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4.6 km return | 2 hours 30 minutes return

Captain Cook landed at Waipao Bay in 1769. He replenished water casks.

From 11th May 1772, Marion de Fresne and his French expedition camped on Moturua. In desperate need of water and supplies and with fatigued sailors, Waipao Bay quickly became a hospital camp.

This walk explores some of the sites used by the Frenchmen.


The information centres in Russell and Paihia can provide details on the tour operators who run boats to Moturua Island.


The track is well formed and passes through long grass, forest and beaches. It is occasionally marked with green posts.

The walk divides into four sections, each taking 20-30 minutes and climbing a low hill between beaches.

From the eastern end of Waipao Bay, climb the low hill to Otupono Bay. On the way to Waiwhapuku Bay, look for the kumara storage pits on the trackside.

The track to Mangahawea Bay can be muddy and slippery, but the shorter section back to Waipao Bay is firmer.

From Waipao Bay, there is a 15-minute-return walk, which departs from the eastern end of the beach and climbs to Pupuha Pa.

European History

Captain Cook landed at Waipao Bay in 1769. He replenished water casks.

From 11th May 1772, Marion de Fresne and his French expedition camped on Moturua. In desperate need of water and supplies and with fatigued sailors, Waipao Bay quickly became a hospital camp. A forge was constructed to aid the substantial repairs needed to the vessels Mascarin and Marquis de Castries. They made reconnaissance trips for new masts and felled kauri spars in Clendon Cove under the command of M. Crozet.

During their time in the Bay of Islands they took detailed notes on the Maori villages and were greeted warmly in return for their kindliness. Their was a constant exchange of gifts of shellfish and fish. The French renamed Moturua Island, Marion Island.

Relations deteriorated with Maori when clothing and a musket were stolen from the camp. Wariness of the Maori, who vastly outnumbered the sick crew increased despite du Fresne’s confidence.

While on a fishing trip to Orokawa Bay, du Fresne and his crew were killed. Subsequently, under the assumed command of M. Crozet, the hospital camp on Moturua was evacuated. Later battles were fought with 26 French crew armed with loaded muskets causing the evacuation of a pa. They destroyed many abandoned villages, where they found the blood-stained clothes of their fellow sea men and evidence of cannibal feasts. It is suggested fishing in tapu grounds and cutting of firewood on burial sites contributed to the decline of good relations between Maori and ‘Marion’s Tribe’.

On 12th July 1772, New Zealand, known to the French as ‘Austral France’ was formerly claimed for France. The officers of the two ships buried a bottle at Waipao Bay. It took them 10 months to limp back to France.

During World War 2, the control base for the mines laid in the Bay of islands area was situated at Waiwhapuku Bay. Remains of the housing and camp buildings are still evident here and on Pupuha Pa.


Marion du Fresne

Death of the Noble Savage

Tahiti, with it’s balmy tropical waters, palm fringed beaches, inviting women and friendly natives was known to the French as an alluring stop-off point in the continuing explorations of the South Pacific. When Louis Antoine de Bougainville had returned to France in 1769 with Ahutoru, The French Government’s desired to see him returned to his Tahitian homeland, a task willingly taken up by Île de France (Mauritius) resident Captain Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne.

Du Fresne was a wealthy naval man not shy of adventure. His resumé included captaining the Prince de Conti, transporting Prince Charles Edward to Brittany during the war of Austrian Succession in the 1750s. He later joined the Compagnie des Indes (French India Company), but following it’s dissolution yearned for a greater adventure which would distinguish him as a notable explorer of his time. The opportunity to return Ahutoru and search for the mystical terra australis incognito was too tempting, and he presented his services, at his own expense, to undertake the voyage. All he asked was the French Navy equip him with the appropriate vessels.

The Mascarin, complete with 22 guns and 140 officers partnered the Marquis de Castries, her 16 guns and 100 officers, lent by the King himself. Second in command of the Mascarin, du Fresne chose Julien Marie Crozet, while the Marquis de Castries was captained by Ambroise Bernard Marie La Ja du Clesmeur. The expedition sailed from Île de France in October 1771, calling at Île Bourbon (Reunion Island). Ahutoru contracted smallpox and died soon after the ships reached Madagascar. Although the principal reason for the voyage was removed, there still remained the Great Southern Land, so the voyage continued. Sailing south from the Cape of Good Hope in late December 1771, the vessels discovered two island groups now named the Marion and Crozet Islands and after a collision, proceeded to Tasmania.

Their first sight of New Zealand was Mount Taranaki, which they named Mascarin Peak. Heading north they were buffeted by a strong gale around Cape Maria van Diemen, but were disappointed by Tasman’s reports of the Three Kings Islands, which erroneously suggested there may be a suitable anchorage. Then, following in the wake of their countryman de Surville, whose explorations were unbeknown to them, they passed Spirits Bay, temporarily loosing two anchors and narrowly avoiding shipwreck.

De Surville’s experiences in Tokerau Bay to the north of the Bay of Islands were tainted with the understandable cultural misunderstandings prevalent of the day. Ideas, technologies, customs and cosmologies were world’s apart. Although St Jean Baptiste’s crew had not killed anyone, they had destroyed canoes and houses (in retaliation for the theft of a yawl) and sailed away with Ranginui, whom they took as a prisoner. No doubt word of this kidnap would have been familiar to the of the Bay of Islands tribes and maybe the death of a local at the receiving end of Endeavour’s muskets still lodged in their memories.

By this time the crew’s health was in need of reinvigoration after the lengthy voyage, many showed symptoms of scurvy. A change in diet to fresh fish and local greens with doses of fresh air and fresh water would prove just the tonic. The battered vessels had succumbed to the ravages of the sea and required extensive repairs to make them seaworthy for the next leg of the voyage, so du Fresne planned on a lengthy stay.

While moored off Cape Carré (Brett), they spied huts. Wary initial exchanges gave way to a descent en masse, du Clesmeur using his pigeon Tahitian to establish linguistic exchanges. Bread was devoured, but the wine and cognac degustation was met with disgust. Recognition of the musket and comment on its tapu, suggested this was not the first time Maori had seen the weapon. Two chiefs were invited to dinner, including Te Kauri (sometimes spelt Te Kuri), who became nervous every time the vessel headed to sea, fearing the same fate as Ranginui in Doubtless Bay.

On May 5th 1772, they went ashore, probably at Waewaetorea Bay interrupting an imminent skirmish. But in need of a more secure anchorage they entered what Lieutenant Roux described as an immense harbour, “as safe as it is beautiful…We named the harbour Port Marion.” The vessels found more suitable anchorages near Moturua Island and made preparations for their sojourn.

The fresh water stream on Wai-iti Beach on the south-western side made the sizeable island an attractive base, with ample space to unload the stores in preparation for repairs. Waipao Bay became a tent hospital, while a forge was set up to effectuate the iron-work required for re-masting the Castries. The flurry of Marion naming continued, with the island also receiving their commander’s title.

The inhabitants of the local whares abandoned their dwellings, as the French looked like they were moving in permanently. However preliminary meetings with the local residents were characterised by amicable trades and cordiality. Te Kauri, Roux noted, “was a handsome man of about forty years of age, and seemed much shrewder and more daring than the other chiefs….[He] was regarded as one of the greatest chiefs of the district. This man often came to see us at our camp on Marion Island and on board our ships. It was easy to see he took notice of everything he saw. His inquisitiveness and his boldness of manner made us distrustful of him at first, but M. Marion always believed in him.”

The engineering prowess displayed in the fortified pa near Orokawa Bay on the mainland impressed the French visitors. Tours of the village were regarded with awe and fascination, the craftsmanship displayed in the armoury attracting particular praise. The Ngare Raumati people’s proximity to the strangers naturally incurred the curiosity of other tribes such as Nga Puhi in the vicinity, who rowed across the bay for a look of their own.

Towards the middle of the month the French undertook a series of sorties to procure the necessary timbers for repairs. They saw canoes of a single tree manned by over 100 paddlers, ate fine oysters and were laden with gifts. Manawaora Bay proved the most suitable source and they set up a mast camp on the beach. Maori assisted in the construction of straw whares an led them inland to tall kauri trees. Du Fresne’s four slaves also managed to escape while sent to wash linen on the beach, but the fugitives were later returned by Te Kauri. The gesture was repaid in kind, when a visitor to Mascarin attempted to pilfer a cutlass. He was briefly shackled then set free, a punishment initiated at Te Kauri’s advice.

While work carried on manufacturing the masts, du Fresne and his officers busied themselves leisurely exploring and shooting game. Relations were excellent and du Clesmeur enthusiastically wrote, “we led the gentlest, happiest life that one could hope for among the savage peoples.” On one excursion sub-lieutenant Vaudricourt became separated from his hunting party and was respectfully returned that night, fed and watered. He later noted du Fresne “who, already biased in favour of these people, now placed an utterly blind trust in them.” They were indeed the ‘noble savage’. Had the voyage returned home at this time, they would have painted a very rosy picture of New Zealanders.

One rainy afternoon the masting camp workers witnessed a raiding party attack the nearby pa. Roux spotted a finely-crafted canoe nearby, which the other officers decided would be good to take for a paddle, despite warnings from their superiors. Furthermore, local women were now displaying symptoms of venereal disease, while other infections would no doubt have also jumped ship. Local fishing grounds were being worked over, birds shot and trees felled. The French were making themselves quite at home.

Their visit occurred at a time when political power struggles were being acted out in the bay. Salmond elucidates: “If, as the tribal manuscript accounts claim, Te Kauri was of Te Hikutuu, then he and his people were part of an ongoing Ngaapuhi infiltration of the bay. If the people on the islands were indeed of Ngaati pou, a tribe who had previously controlled much of the region, then Marion’s close friendship with so many of their numbers must have seemed an unpredictable and ominous threat.” Furthermore, the knowledge those tribes closest to the expedition were receiving highly valued gifts such as tools, garments and nails would have caused consternation among other more distant settlements.

One Maori account of a fishing foray to the intensely tapu areas around Manwaora Bay is cited in Anne Salmond’s seminal Two Worlds. “There came a day when the foreigners rowed ashore in order to net fish on the beach at Manawaora. The Maori people scolded them for this, as the beach was tapu to some of Te Kauri’s people. Some people from there had been drowned in the Bay of Islands, and had been cast ashore on this beach. Although the people of Ngaati Pou told them angrily not to do this….the foreigners took no notice…The foreigners [had] violated the tapu of Manawaora by netting fish there and eating those fish; it was this that made the desecration of the tapu such a grave offence.”

By fishing on these grounds and eating the catch, du Fresne had not only breached a human tapu and desecrated the place where Te Kauri’s kinsmen had died, but stirred the ire of the gods. Leslie Kelly notes how “The penalty for neglect [of tapu] was the withdrawal of the protecting power of the gods, and the great respect with which the law of tapu was observed, lay in the belief that offences against it were punished in this world. Its power influenced the Maori during his whole lifetime, penetrating into every feature of his daily existence, from birth to death.” As chief, Te Kauri’s only course of action was to avenge this profound insult, otherwise the spirit of his dead kinsmen would have tortured him forever, the gods would have abandoned his cause and brought suffering on his people.

“When Marion’s men, accompanied by Ngaati Pou, had insisted despite the anguished protest of their friends on hauling their nets on a beach that was intensely tapu to Te Kauri’s people, the die had been cast for a tragic sequence of events,” wrote Salmond. The mana of Te Kauri had been doubly dishonoured and the only course of action for this angry man was to exact utu.

The next day was 8th June and du Fresne with a complement of officers were led up a hill by rivals of Te Kauri, crowned with feathers and made to feel Kings of the surrounding country. All seemed well. However, visits to the French vessels abated. Had the crew known of the impending fate, they would have recognised the forlorn looks of downcast friends who did venture across. That evening theft of a 300-lb anchor, musket and biscuits from the mast-camp, was retaliated with a musket shot. Sensing all was not right with the voluminous cries coming from the surrounding forest, the officers sent for help. The next morning the troubles started.

Second Lieutenant Haumont de Kerbrillant ordered an abandoned village to be torched, seizing a young chief and man, tying the chief to a stake, unwittingly reducing his mana to that of a slave. Du Fresne on hearing about these over-reactions was furious and ordered the captives to be released. The situation seemed diffused and the following morning peace seemed assured when the booty was returned and a conciliatory meeting between Roux and several chiefs was conducted on the beach. Du Fresne seemed unperturbed by the events and continued life in blissful ignorance.

Roux meanwhile took note of happenings around him and increase the guard at his sentry-post on Moturua, aware that night sorties were being organised to spy on them. Before daybreak on the 11th Chevillard de Montaison noticed a series of beacon fires blazing all along the shore, as he steered the longboat to collect ballast stones from near Te Kauri’s village. The 100 or so warriors on the beach evidently assumed the stones would be used as missiles and asked for ‘Mariao’. Du Fresne, even after a meeting with Roux, was unflinching - so long as Maori were treated kindly, the French would never come to harm.

He even stuck to his guns when the following day he was escorted to ‘Tacoury’s Cove’ (Manawaora Bay) by Te Kauri himself for a fish. One local bystander interrupted proceedings by breaking down in tears, warning Marion of the intended treachery. 17 crew boarded the canoe and du Fresne insisted only cursory arms were taken.

When du Fresne had not returned by the following morning, the officers assumed he had visited the masting-camp and stayed the night. On Moturua, Roux awoke to 400 warriors descending through the fernlands by moonlight, but averted an attack by setting up the blunderbusses in a square, loaded and ready for action. The following morning Roux’s concerns were finally substantiated. The longboat of the Marquis returned from a firewood collecting mission with grizzly news.

They had rescued an injured colleague swimming for his life and ready to blurt what the crew believed to be a fanciful tale. He recounted an attack, where he had killed his assailants, hid and watched the horrific scene unfold. His friend Lequay was killed and cut to pieces, other countrymen trying to escape were hacked to death. In his run for safety he noticed du Fresne’s boat nearby and assumed this had also been attacked.

Roux and du Clesmeur fortified their positions, especially as around 1000 warriors had come ashore on Moturua and were waving in gruesome gesture the methods by which the French had been killed. Roux opened fire on an advancing band of chiefs, felling Te Kauri. He sent a heavily armed party ashore to look for their leader and reinforce the earlier intelligence.

What they discovered was worse than a nightmare. Around 1500 warriors surrounded the boats, wielding axes, swords and muskets relieved from their captors. Chiefs paraded in the clothes of the dead with de Vaudricourt’s cutlass and de Fresne’s musket being proudly displayed. Crozet at the masting-camp had suspected something was up but continued work in the forest hauling logs. On meeting with the island-based party and hearing of the news they regrouped, took arms and headed for the beach. A large force of warriors surrounded them taunting “Tacouri mate Marion” (Te Kauri has killed Marion). As the French loaded their gear into the longboats, Crozet aimed a gun at the chief’s head, insisting that no-one crossed a line demarcated with a peg and that the warriors stay seated. As the boats left shore the warriors attacked, forcing Crozet to open fire, leaving a wake of dead and wounded.

The French and Maori were now in fear of their lives. Crozet, who assumed command and ordered Roux to take 26 armed soldiers and volunteers to ensure the water supply, drive the warriors off the island, and if possible capture women and children to hold hostage. Attacking Paeroa pa with blood chilling coolness, the French broke down the defences warded off the missiles and effectuated a slaughter of the retreating residents. Around 250 were killed. Roux noted the resistance, especially of the chiefs, was stronger than expected and characterised by inordinate bravery. These were evidently accomplished fighters. As the French left, they lit a fire on the windward side.

The dead from the pa were buried with hands sticking from the ground, “to let the savages see that we did not eat our enemies.” Roux also ordered the fern to be cut from around the camp to deter an ambush while the Moturua camp was dismantled. The carpenters hastily spliced together a jury mast for the Marquis, while wood and water were collected. Another 25 or so attackers were shot or drowned in a further act of retaliation, their waka appropriated. A stand-off ensued while the rigging was overhauled. Maori incursions were dismissed by firing cannon balls, the French movements relayed around the bay with calls and fires.

On July 7th the French mounted a formal reconnaissance mission to exactly determine their leader’s fate. At Te Hue Bay, they discovered their boats burned and the iron extracted from the structure. Te Kauri’s village was deserted - all they saw was the chief parading atop a nearby hill in Marion’s scarlet cloak and a few old men, too weak to leave. One jabbed at the Frenchman with his javelin and was shot. Searching the village, Salmond describes the gruesome finds.

“….In Te Kauri’s house they found a head that had been cooked and the flesh partly stripped off; and in a house nearby, a thighbone on a skewer and a shredded heap of rags. As was customary in traditional warfare, the enemies’ bodies had been ritually eaten to destroy their mana and to expiate their crimes.” The French then burned the village and exacted a similar conflagration to ‘Piquiore’s’ village nearby. Two Maori waka were captured and towed back for firewood.

A meeting of the remaining officers decided that because the vessels had only been patched up, many crew were still ill with scurvy and they were short of long boats and anchors, they should return to Île de France without delay. Before departure, they re-enacted Cook’s possession of the country for the King three years earlier, burying a bottle containing formal documents to seal the claim. On 16th July, undoubtedly relieved, they said adieu to ‘Treachery Bay’ in ‘France Australe’ and headed north.


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North IslandNorthlandBay of Islands


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