Just a stone's throw away from central Whangarei, one family with young children is living the dream on Matakohe-Limestone Island. Reporter Danica MacLean and photographer John Stone tagged along after school one afternoon to see what island life entails.

Charlie and Quincy Carpenter may only live 3.5km from school, but the brothers have a unique daily school run.

After breakfast, they hop into a boat and take a short trip across the Whangarei Harbour before climbing into a car to complete the journey.

Charlie, 9, and Quincy, 5, live on Matakohe-Limestone Island with their parents Emma Craig and Jono Carpenter who share the job of the island's ranger.

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Matakohe-Limestone Island is a 37ha island in Whangarei Harbour. At its closest point, it is about 500m from the jetty at Onerahi.

The family have lived on the island since Easter 2016, but the brothers have only been going to school at Onerahi Primary for two terms.

Before that they did correspondence school and preschool. For Quincy, that meant a new delivery of puzzles, CDs and toys every four to six weeks.

Craig said going to school has been fantastic for the boys, although "we know it won't be practical over the winter".

She said there had been only two or three days when the boys couldn't get across the water for school, which was fewer than she thought there would be.

So far, there hasn't been a time where she or Carpenter haven't been able to get across to get the boys after school.

Charlie thinks he prefers correspondence school for one simple reason.

"You only need to do it for two hours a day."

The rest of the day, of course, is for exploring.

Emma Craig, left and Jono Carpenter check one of the many bait stations on the island.
Emma Craig, left and Jono Carpenter check one of the many bait stations on the island.

"I like the ruins and the swing," he said.

"Probably same," adds Quincy.

"We can climb all over the building and the rocks," Charlie said.

These days, it's after school that the fun really begins.

There's a swing, made from rope found in mud on the shore at nearby Knight Island.

Then Charlie checks his plants on the deck of the family's home.

"They're flowers. I started growing them."

The remnants of the manager's house for the old cement works is right on their doorstep and makes for a dream playground for two young boys.

Charlie Carpenter, Quincy Carpenter and Emma Craig take time out at the end of the day to catch up on their reading.
Charlie Carpenter, Quincy Carpenter and Emma Craig take time out at the end of the day to catch up on their reading.

The boys ride their bikes and scooters around the rooms, the concrete walls are perfect for playing racquet ball against.

"When it rains a couple of the rooms, just shallow, fill up with water and they come and drive their cars around in it," Craig said.

They have a pet lamb, aptly named Lamby, which they bottle fed to start with. It now lives at the ruins of the old cement works on the other side of the island, which closed 100 years ago.

Noisy kiwi
Matakohe-Limestone Island is a predator-free kiwi creche where, to date, more than 150 kiwi have been repatriated from.

Emma Craig, left and Jono Carpenter check one of the many bait stations on the island.
Emma Craig, left and Jono Carpenter check one of the many bait stations on the island.

Charlie said they don't often see the kiwi, unless they go looking for them in the wild, but sometimes the birds keep them awake at night. He said the family have also had kiwi poop on the back deck of the house.

The family have seen orca, dolphins, penguin and fur seals in the harbour, in addition to the various wildlife that calls Matakohe-Limestone Island home.

Charlie helped nurse an injured kingfisher back to health by feeding it sugar water.

"You just pick it [the sugar water] up on your finger and drip it on to their beak and they start licking it off."

The island is home to nine species of lizard — five skinks and four gecko, and Charlie lists those too.

Quincy, left and Charlie Carpenter commute to and from school at Onerahi Primary from Matakohe-Limestone Island with mum Emma Craig
Quincy, left and Charlie Carpenter commute to and from school at Onerahi Primary from Matakohe-Limestone Island with mum Emma Craig

He is wise beyond his young years.

When asked what is the best part about living on the island, his first response is: "no nosy neighbours".

His brother has a much simpler response: "Playing".

Charlie is not just wise to the sometimes volatile world of neighbourly relations but is a passionate environmentalist. He doesn't pull any punches when he talks about how humans are "killing the earth".

"We've poisoned it, you might say, and that's quite bad."

Plastic a big issue
Plastic is a big part of it, he says, but also lists fossil fuels, smoke pollution, acid rain and mining.

He has a message to everyone.

"Stop using plastics and do as many things as you can to help the environment. Every small thing will help make a difference.

"Once there's no kiwi, there's no more. It's up to humans to stop stoats and other pests.

"What we start we have to finish. If we start destroying the world, we need to finish by healing it."

He believes change is possible. "We can do it if we try. If we do the best we can, we stand a chance."

Last month, the brothers spoke at a Whangarei District Council meeting to tell councillors about plastic parking tickets washing up on Matakohe-Limestone Island. They asked if the council could use an alternative product to make the tickets.

Councillors took this on board, and staff have gone away to investigate.

It's of very little surprise to learn Charlie is a big fan of Sir David Attenborough. In fact he checked with his mum to make sure Attenborough had been knighted, as he was prepared to write a letter to the Queen if his idol hadn't been bestowed the honour.

Emma said life on the island is wonderful, despite the days in the depth of winter when she thinks it could be easier.

The home runs on gas and solar power, with a back-up generator. The composting toilet is just outside the door. They do the shopping every five or six weeks. But there are comforts too — local company Uber sponsors the wifi for the island.

The boys tag along with whatever their parents are doing, from trapping pests on nearby islands, to rubbish pick-ups or group tours of the island. Emma said sometimes children ask the boys questions they wouldn't ask her.

Screen time is limited, replaced instead with books and board games.

Charlie recommends island life to everyone.

"It's really fun out here, there's all sorts of things you can do. You can go exploring and swimming, and if you're lucky you get an island with some really cool wildlife and some really cool fauna, like trees and animals — all sorts."

With a picturesque view thrown in for good measure, it's hard to argue.