Nature at its best: islands at the heart of the Hauraki Gulf
Department of Conservation
They have been settled, farmed and mined, seen battles fought and defence structures built, had foreign species introduced and then removed, and people have moved in, created holiday homes and moved out.
Today, the islands of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf reflect all these aspects of their rich past and more, setting world standards for conservation and restoration.
There are more than 50 islands in the Gulf and each tells a different story.
Some are a last refuge for native plants and animals. Others hold historic treasures from the earliest Māori settlers to the remains of World War II coastal defences.
Thanks to effective pest-eradication programmes, an increasing number are now pest-free, providing safe havens for many of our rarest native species. And, in the surrounding waters live many rare seabirds and marine mammals – sharing their living space with New Zealand’s largest city.
There’s something for everyone on the islands of the Gulf Harbour, and there’s nowhere in the world you can step in to nature so easily as on Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe or Tiritiri Matangi. They make for a perfect day out for families or to show off Auckland to visiting friends and relatives.
Emerging from the sea just 600 years ago, Rangitoto is the youngest and largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field.
This icon of the Auckland landscape has long been a favourite day trip and boating destination. Pest-free since 2011, it is home to our largest Pohutukawa forest, and unique plant and bird life.
The shortest and most popular route to the summit climbs through lava fields and forest to the peak 259 metres above sea level. The summit provides panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.
There are also shorter walks taking in native forest and the historic bachs.
Sitting on ancient greywacke and sedimentary strata 20-160 million years old, Motu (island) tapu (sacred) is the oldest land in the Gulf.
It has been intensively settled and cultivated by Māori, hosted Victorian picnic parties of more than 10,000 people, and housed more than 1,000 military personnel during WWII.
A short causeway established during World War II connects Motutapu with Rangitoto. Take a 30-minute ferry from downtown Auckland to explore one of many walking tracks to peaceful bays or the Centennial Loop through regenerating bush track, planted by the Motutapu Restoration Trust volunteers.
Motuihe Island/Te Motu-a-Ihenga
The varied history of Motuihe Island/Te Motu-a-Ihenga includes being extensively settled by Māori, farmed by Europeans for more than a century, the site of Auckland’s quarantine station for 50 years, and then a prisoner of war camp and a naval training base.
Today, people enjoy the crystal clear waters of the white sandy beaches and views of the Hauraki Gulf, and visit the relics of the days gone by.
Family-friendly Motuihe, just 45 minutes from downtown Auckland, is a pest-free haven for many native birds, largely thanks to the Motuihe Trust.
It is also one of the few places you might see a tuatara in the wild.
There are plenty of walks requiring varying degrees of energy and fitness, taking in headlands, beaches and forests.
A visit to Tiritiri Matangi is the top-ranked Auckland activity on Trip Advisor.
As one of the most successful community-lead conservation projects in the world this is a real opportunity to see some unique local treasures.
Unwanted predators have been eradicated and rare native birds, such as the kōkako (wattlebird) and the takahē (once thought extinct) survive and thrive in restored habitats within regenerating native forest.
Managed by the Department of Conservation in partnership with Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, the island is an open wildlife sanctuary and the perfect day trip destination for nature lovers and families. Catch the ferry from downtown Auckland and if you’re a first-time visitor, join a guided tour to discover the thriving wildlife.
For more information about the Islands of the Gulf Harbour visit www.doc.govt.nz
Ferry information at www.fullers.co.nz, www.sealink.co.nz, or www.explorewaiheke.co.nz
- Rambling through Rangitoto
- Tiritiri Matangi
- Tuatara released on Motuihe Island