KawakawaLogoThe badge of the Otamahua/Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust is a sprig of heart-shaped leaves and flower spikes of the native shrub kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum – "great pepper", "tall").

Why do we use this plant as our symbol?

Because of the ancient association of the plant with the island. Kawakawa was the earlier name of what we now call Otamahua and that must have been because the shrub grew there. Kawakawa was, and still is, valued by tangata whenua in an extraordinarily wide variety of ways, both spiritual and physical. Conception and birth processes, naming of children, removal of tapu, the opening of a new meeting house, launching a new canoe, blessing of food, are all benefited by having kawakawa nearby or wearing it. More somberly it is worn by mourners at a tangi.

Medicinal uses of kawakawa leaves, flowers or bark are legion. Treatments are by steaming, infusions or poultices for: wounds, bruises, ringworm, boils, eszema, toothache, rheumatism, chest infections and asthma, stomach pains, dysentery, as a purgative or diuretic, for intestinal worms and venereal diseases. The scented, aromatic oil can be mixed with others to anoint the skin or make healing ointment. Boiled leaves make a spicey, stimulating tonic. Smoke from the burnt foliage can be used to drive insects away from the kumara crop or mosquitoes from a campfire throng.

Kawakawa on Quail Island

By great good fortune there are still some of the original, truly native, kawakawa stock on Otamahua. A mature bush and some younger ones live beside a seepage under the cliffs near Ward’s Beach. The shrubs that grow so well near the display centre were planted in 1998. They came from Bank’s Peninsula stock which Lincoln University entomologists had used for their research. At least one seedling has arisen from this planting. In 1998 Rakiihia Tau planted a ceremonial kawakawa, originally from Ahuriri Valley, to launch the ecorestoration project. It is in a small patch of trees just north- east of the display centre.

Bank’s Peninsula is at the southern limit of frost tender kawakawa, but those on Otamahua have done well, provided that ground conditions are relatively moist.

The name kawakawa came to Aotearoa with the travelers from Hawaiki, long ago. They remembered similar-looking, related plants in their homeland. The attractive plant kawakawa, now part of the ethos of Otamahua/Quail Island ecorestoration thus provides us with good links to the earliest settlers of the land.


Extract by Colin Burrows. Reference: M. Riley, 1994. Maori Healing and Herbal: N.Z. Ethnobotanical Sourcebook. Viking Sevenseas N.Z. Ltd, Paraparaumu.

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