Located in the Manukau Harbour, Te Motu a Hiaroa is a part of a significant cultural landscape rich in history, customs, and traditions. These link Te Motu a Hiaroa (Puketutu) to Mataaoho, the deity responsible for volcanic activity, who created the wider Auckland volcanic field. The creation of these volcanoes is the result of Te Riri o Mataaoho (‘the wrath of Mataaoho’). Te Motu a Hiaroa is linked in tradition to Te Pane a Mataaoho (Mangere Mountain) which is the head of Mataaoho, Te Ihu a Mataaoho (Maungataketake/Ellett’s Mount) which is the nose of Mataaoho, and Mangere Lagoon and Kohuora and Pukaki craters which are Nga Tapuwae a Mataaoho – the footprints of Mataaoho, and to Te Kapua Kai a Mataaoho (Mt Eden) – the foodbowl of Mataaoho. There are also traditions that speak to the activities of the secretive Patupaiere who occupied the area prior to human activity. Te Motu a Hiaroa is protected by the ancestral guardian taniwha – Papaka, Kaiwhare, Taramainuku and Haumia.
The arrival of the Tainui waka around 1350AD is strongly associated with the island. When the Tainui was portaged across Otahuhu (Te Tahuhu nui o Tainui) and reached the Manukau Harbour (Te Manuka a Hoturoa) , the captain Hoturoa called for the senior tohunga Rakataura (also known as Hape) who had arrived earlier and was resident at Pukeiti (Te Puketapapatanga a Hape) at Te Ihu a Mataaoho (Ihumatao). The Tainui was then anchored at the island for a time and was the first permanent home of the crew of the Tainui waka in Aotearoa. Hiaroa was the sister of Rakataura, and a tohunga in her own right, and she became resident on the island, and subsequently lent her name to the place. From this point, the Island became known as the island of tohunga, and was held in the highest esteem as a place of worship by Tainui and Waiohua peoples and contained numerous waahi tapu including tuaahu (alters) and urupaa (burials), the most ancient of the former established by Hape himself. Puketutu is the name of one of the maunga paa and came to be applied in historic times to the whole of the island. It once held extensive kumara stone gardening systems that mirrored those across the channel at the Otuataua stonefields at Ihumatao (Te Ihu a Mataaoho).
Te Motu a Hiaroa was subsequently occupied and cared for over the next 600 years by successive generations of rangatira including Poutukeka. The iwi and hapuu of the area share whakapapa to Rakataura (Hape), Hiaroa, Poutukeka and to the earliest peoples extending back more than 30 generations. This sacred island has now been returned to its kaitiaki. The title to the island was formally transferred to the Te Motu a Hiaroa Charitable Trust in 2013 as an outcome of negotiations regarding the use of the island for Watercare’s biosolids operations.
During the 150 years of colonial occupation, the island was developed for use as an experimental farm, a timber mill, forestry, for the agistment of horses, a pleasure garden, and eventually a quarry. It was variously and informally known by the names of its successive Paakehaa owners including Weekes Island and Bulls Island. Its famed owners include John Logan Campbell in the 1850s and Sir Henry Kelliher from the 1940s. The causeway was completed around 1935.
From the late 1950s, and within the space of a decade, two of the Islands most prominent maunga were desecrated as a result of quarrying which continued until 2012. The stone from these quarries helped build the Auckland Airport runway and other infrastructure in the city. At this time the Maangere Sewage Treatment Plant oxidisation ponds were built in the harbour between Puketutu Island and the mainland, comprising over 500ha, and operated until 2002. The construction of the ponds destroyed the scallop and oyster beds that surrounded the island and polluted its aquifer.
Even after years of colonial occupation and developments from the likes of Henry Weekes, The Bull family, the Massey family and more recently Sir Henry Kelliher, Mana Whenua still carried out their intrinsic obligation as kaitiaki to care for the land where possible.