One house, two people and some rare flightless birds: welcome to Mana Island

Flora Feltham on Mana

The island where I live, Te Mana o Kupe o Aotearoa, sits half an hour off the coast of New Zealand’s north island. It has one house and a permanent human population of two: my husband, Pat, and me. In April, this will increase to three because we’re having a baby. From the mainland, Mana looks exposed. It rises from the sea like a stone slab. Once here, the view flips. The mainland lounges across the horizon and the island reveals itself as a lush, green refuge from Cook Strait’s battering swell.

Flora Feltham lives on Te Mana o Kupe o Aotearoa, or Mana Island, a nature sanctuary off the coast of Wellington Photograph: Leon Berard

With its calm gaze toward Porirua, Mana Island is treasured by Ngāti Toa Rangatira, the mana whenua iwi. Te Rangihaeata lived here: chief and nephew of Te Rauparaha, who wrote Ka Mate.

From the 1830s, the island was farmed by the Vella family but in 1987 became a sanctuary for nature, managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). They shipped off the cattle and, with the community group Friends of Mana Island, replanted 500,000 native trees over the pasture. Vines grew over the fence posts. Birds flocked back to the bush. Today, Ngāti Toa and DOC work together on a vision for Mana….