Motutapu is one of the earliest Maori settlement sites in the Auckland Region. The island was settled way more intensively than other islands in the Hauraki Gulf except for Motukorea (Browns Island). Ash from the Rangitoto eruption destroyed villages, gardens and forest but also provided a new wealth of rich ash modified soils enabling settlement to be re-established.
The Sunde site discovery is one of the most acclaimed and unique in New Zealand and has also aroused international interest.
The site was first discovered by archaeologist Rudi Sunde in 1958 when he noted a collection of artefacts that were eroding onto the beach. It is Motutapu’s earliest recorded settlement, radio carbon dated to between 1250 and 1450.
In 1981, Reg Nicol from Auckland University carried out more intensive excavations and found footprints beneath the ash layer of at least eight individuals (including three children) and their dogs.
When people first settled here, the island was cloaked in native forest. They had quite a varied diet including fur seal, dog, tuatara, 25 species of bird, and fish (mainly snapper), but only 3 species of shellfish.