For a period in the 1920s and 1930s Ruby Island in Lake Wānaka was the rather unlikely site of a tearoom and Saturday-night ‘cabaret’ operated by the Hunt family, who ran a ferry from the mainland. Members of the Otago motorcycle club on a trip from Dunedin stand on the roofed dance floor in the early 1930s.
Photograph supplied by Arthur Bingham, Dunedin, from the collection of the late Claude Bingham.
What\'s you story?
Contributed by Ian Gazzard, author of Ruby Island – a jewel in Lake Wanaka
I retired to Wānaka about 12 years ago. Soon after we arrived my wife Sally and I became volunteers in assisting the Queenstown Lakes District Council in restoring 3.16-hectare Ruby Island, which had suffered from many fires and years of neglect. The island’s close proximity to Wānaka township makes it easy to reach, and it is popular with boaties, kayakers, picnickers, wedding parties and many others. The extremely dry summers make it difficult to establish vegetation, and prone to fires. To this end a solar-powered watering system was installed. Since the early 1990s, after another disastrous fire, many hours of work have been carried out by hundreds of local volunteers who with financial support from the Council have progressively re-established mainly native plantings and removed thousands of weeds. To prevent fires a gas-operated barbecue was built out of local stone, free for the public to use. About four working bees are held between October and March every year, usually supported by about 30 locals. Mount Aspiring College also provides students from its year 13 outdoor education class, which helps introduce them to the Wānaka area early in the college year. The island is home to giant wētā and mountain geckos, now rare on the mainland.
Ruby Island was originally known as Roys Island, named after the area’s original pioneer settler – as are the bay where Wānaka town is situated, and the nearby peninsula and peak. Another name for it, shown on a very early Lands and Survey map, was Merino Island. This theme of pastoral animal names may be connected with some of the other Lake Wānaka islands called Bull and Ram (now Moua Tapu). The Māori name for Ruby Island is Mātakitaki (to gaze upon, to see).
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