Sunday, 8 November 2015


No-one watches over
Watchman’s Island

It sits just 600 meters from the shore in Auckland, New Zealand’s Waitemata Harbour and no-one owns it or administers it. Auckland is experiencing an unprecedented housing boom, but no-one has yet applied for a building permit for Watchman’s Island.

In any of the nearby suburbs, finding a house priced at less than a million dollars is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But Watchman’s Island remains uninhabited.
Watchman's Island, Auckland, New Zealand

The state of affairs on Watchman’s Island is really quite remarkable (the words ‘state of affairs’ should not be taken as meaning an independent state that encourages affairs with other people’s spouses, even though there is a single shade tree ample for the purpose). What is remarkable about the island is that it is really prime real estate with excellent sea views, a private sandy beach, quiet neighbors, and no taxes.

Although never permanently inhabited, Watchman’s Island has an interesting history.

It first appeared on a British Admiralty chart in 1857 as Sentinel Rock. No-one knows why it was called Sentinel Rock, but it appears to have been given a name change in the 1970s when an Auckland journalist wrote a weekly report on New Zealand goings–on, as seen from ‘Watchman’s Island’ and the name stuck.

The New Zealand Tour Commentary
At about that time someone interested in buying the island failed in his quest because he was unable to find an owner who could sell it to him. The island was ownerless.

All government departments and local government denied responsibility for Watchman’s Island. Officially, it does not exist. But the island certainly does exist and is clearly visible from the shore and to traffic crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge and it seemed that anyone who wanted the island could have it for the taking. As Watchman’s has no defence force, a full-scale invasion could be mounted successfully from a single row-boat.

In spite of the island’s zero population it has a thriving yacht club. In the 1990s some radio-control yachting enthusiasts formed the Watchman’s Island Yacht Club. They sailed their miniature yachts briefly from the island but found it to be too hard going without a suitable marina and all the other facilities that old salts enjoy at the end of a hard day’s sailing.

In 2005 the island was briefly inhabited by a crouching Adidas metal figure promoting the British Lions’ rugby tour of New Zealand. But the figure was soon toppled by a saboteur on the grounds that it was culturally insensitive and the island was once again uninhabited.

Watchman’s Island was next in the news when an agent for a local realty company had a sign erected on the island advertising it for sale. No information is available about a sale price, or prospective buyers, and the sign has since been taken down or washed away.

Meanwhile, the island has not applied for a building permit, or United Nations membership.