Picturesque Motuarohia Island in the Bay of Islands will be closed to the public for up to four months from May 1 for tree felling and a track upgrade.

The Department of Conservation wants the work done in time for the Tuia 250 celebrations later this year, because Motuarohia — also known as Roberton Island — was a key site in the first encounters between Māori and the explorer Captain Cook in Northland.

Although much of Motuarohia is privately owned, the middle section is a recreation reserve with a pair of lagoons ideal for snorkelling and a track up to a lookout and a historic pā.

The 19ha reserve is hugely popular with boaties in summer.

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DoC Bay of Islands office acting operations manager Martin Akroyd said the reserve had to be closed while a contractor removed a number of old pine trees to make the pā site visible during the Tuia 250 celebrations.

The track would also get an upgrade once the pines had been removed.

The closure was necessary due to the nature of the work and to ensure public safety, Akroyd said.

Archaeological sites on Motuarohia, including the pā site, terraces and pits, point to a long history of human settlement.

In November 1769 Cook, accompanied by the Tahitian high priest Tupaia, anchored the Endeavour just south of the island at a point now known as Cook's Cove. He reported that as many as 300 Māori were living on the island.

Motuarohia is part of Project Island Song, an ambitious plan to eradicate introduced pests and return native flora and fauna from the eastern Bay of Islands.