Alex Stone continues his series on the yacht clubs of Aotearoa. Here’s one that’s almost off the radar…

Arid Island is a terrific and under-appreciated cruising destination. And quite exclusive too, given its tiny yet charming anchorage.

With its imposing 180m-high cliffs, and lurking about 5.5km into the morning sun from Aotea Great Barrier Island’s never-crowded Whangapoua Beach and Haratonga Walkway, it’s been likened by one blown-away traveller to Tintin’s Black Island.

From this viewpoint, Rakitu, or Arid Island, certainly looks deserving of its English name. But behind the cliffs, in a horseshoe-shaped valley, it’s quite fertile and supported a Ngāti Rehua community for centuries. And a Pākehā farm for over 100 years.

Which is where our yacht club story – and one of nautical misadventure – comes from. Also the explanation of possibly the world’s most unusual yacht club burgee.


The Rope family farmed the island from 1956 to 2010. Bryce Rope owned a shipping company, which helped make this remote (though fertile) farm economically viable. He ran 1,000 sheep and 120 breeding cattle.

 Though the Ropes owned a shipping company, and also built wharves around New Zealand, the Chatham and Pitt Islands, they declined to make this special island any more accessible. There’s still no wharf at The Cove, the only anchorage on Rakitu, a sheltered NW-facing, tight little bay. Space for only a dozen boats.

 The Rope family sold the island to the NZ Government for $1.8M in 1993. They had much higher offers to sell to overseas celebrities, but wanted it to stay in local, collective ownership.

Bull’s eye

Once upon a time, Bryce Rope needed to get a new starter motor for a bulldozer delivered to Rakitu. Some stories have it as the crank handle for a new generator that had just arrived – but minus the crucial accessory. Whatever, legendary seaplane pilot Fred Ladd dropped the heavy item out of the window while passing, expecting it to land harmlessly in a paddock. 


 But it conked the island’s prize bull (actually their only bull) on the head, killing it instantly.
A laconic message from the Ropes to the seaplane: “Part arrived safely, bull dead.”

 The dead bull features on the flag of the (fairly informal) Arid Island Yacht Club, which holds one race to the island each year. Sometimes. Weather and everything else permitting.

And on these days, a curious ritual unfolds. First, there’s the occasional reading of “a former poet laureate’s rendition of an ode about a farting competition.” (!)

Then new members of the club are invited to grovel in the sand for several metres, then on hands and knees up a sheep ramp to be tapped on the shoulder by the commodore with a giant inflatable plastic hammer. Then to be welcomed into the club and given a jar full of bull semen (cream and whiskey) to swallow…

After which, there’s the AGM of the Arid Island Yacht Club. Which usually and cheerfully votes for a spectacular rise in subscription fees – because they’re never paid anyway.

The bovine world got its own back: sometime in the 1950s a bull on its way from Rakitu to Auckland jumped into the harbour and ran to the Museum, where it bowled over an  Auckland Star photographer.


Gold in them thar hills!
Way back in the 1860s the Barrier was a major hub of kauri milling and gold mining.

It’s rumoured that a bandit made off with 1,000 gold sovereigns. Half of them he hid on Rakitu, while making a getaway. Supposedly. This has kept keen amateur fossickers with a penchant for out-of-the-way places and their metal detectors busy for yonks.

The island is now a DoC reserve. Rakitu, at 329ha, could  become an outer Gulf equivalent to the famous open sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi (245ha).

Unusual plants on Rakitu are large-leaved forms of rangiora and kawakawa.

Tui, morepork, grey warblers, kingfishers, fantails, silvereyes, shining cuckoos and little blue penguins live on Arid Island, plus introduced pasture birds like paradise shelducks, spur-winged plovers and welcome swallows. Introduced wekas also seem happy to be there.

Many other species have disappeared – but could be returned: whiteheads, kakariki and tomtit, pied shags, bellbirds and pipits. Our family bird expert, daughter Dr Zoe Stone, adds, “Bellbirds are present on Aotea, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they occur on Arid as well, although none in the eBirds records.” She opines, “It appears whiteheads, kakariki etc were on the island but seem to have disappeared, so I would agree they could be good reintroduction options if predators are controlled.”

But the sheep, cows and the bulls are long gone. And won’t be coming back. The fleet of the Arid Island Yacht Club – maybe.