Not even the emptying of the ferry sewage holding tanks into the waters of the Hauraki Gulf could spoil the celebratory mood of the trip back from Kaikoura Island.

Victories are hard won in the world of conservation, and the 300 champions of the cause - both volunteers and paid - who had braved the undulating seas to Great Barrier Island to mark neighbouring Kaikoura Island's move into the conservation estate were not to be distracted.

It was a great day. Five years after the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act was passed, the Government had finally followed up with some visible support. Not only had it stumped up $8 million of the $10.5 million price of Kaikoura last year, it was now investing $2 million for conservation work on seven gulf islands.

In revealing the details of Project Hauraki on Saturday, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the project was designed to raise the profile of the Hauraki Gulf as a visitor destination and centre of island conservation.

The $2 million is to be spread over four years, $1.4 million being "new money" and $660,000 "reprioritised from within the Conservation Department budget".

The money will go towards pest eradication, track development, and signage on Kaikoura, Waiheke, Motuihe, Motutapu, Rangitoto, Rakitu and Great Barrier islands.

Awareness of the marine park's existence will also be promoted.

The minister was quick to add that Project Hauraki would complement the work done on island restoration by numerous community trusts - an acknowledgment, I guess, that $2 million doesn't go far, and also of the tireless and anonymous work done by volunteers. Looking about, it was as though every one of them was there.

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, who campaigned for 10 years for the Government to save Kaikoura from foreign ownership, summed it up when he said it was as though his email address book had come to life.

Rubbing shoulders were the campaigners for Tiritiri Matangi, Rangitoto, Motutapu, Long Bay, Kaikoura of course, Great Barrier and other good causes.

More than a few, I'm sure they'll forgive me for observing, were even longer in the tooth than I am. Which I note only to emphasise the vital importance of the planned educational facility on Kaikoura.

While part of it will involve outdoor pursuits, the other - and to me the more important - emphasis will be on conservation. And what better place could there be for the keepers of the gulf to pass on their expertise and vision to the next generation of young Aucklanders?

Because of swells in the gulf, the ferry was unable to berth at Kaikoura, forcing the ceremony to take place at the adjacent Great Barrier settlement of Fitzroy. But the 564ha island remained the focus of Saturday's events.

The good news is that there will be no need to repeat the massive planting programme at Tiri. With the eradication of the fallow deer and rats, the existing native bush in the valleys should act as a nursery for natural regeneration.

Motu Kaikoura Trust chairman Geoff Davidson fizzes about the rare coastal milk tree he's found and the beds of maiden hair fern - browsed but not destroyed by the deer. Kaka, he knew about; what he didn't were the endangered brown teal, living on a remote inland pond. With the rats gone, he's also hoping for a return of nesting seabirds.

"There should be zillions. You shouldn't be able to walk anywhere on the island without falling into a petrel burrow."

If nature - once the pests are removed - can look after itself, the education centre can't.

There are the remains of an old lodge there, but there's some debate about how restorable the property is. This suggests the focus should go on funding a replacement - particularly if it is to be an education centre for the whole marine park.

The ASB Trusts have already generously given $2 million towards the purchase, and seem interested in giving further assistance. But only if others join in. Donors queue here.