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The Washington Independent
Exploring Hauraki Gulf Islands

Exploring Hauraki Gulf Islands

Last updated: 03/15/2021 12:45 | 01/04/2012 12:45
Katharine Tate

Table of Contents

Island InformationBrowns IslandMotuiheRangitoto IslandMotutapuTiritiri Matangi IslandMotu KaikouraKawau IslandLittle Barrier IslandGreat Barrier IslandPakatoa IslandRakino IslandWaiheke IslandOther Islands

Hauraki Gulf Islands

Island Information

Hauraki Gulf Map

The Hauraki Gulf and its islands are a magnet for summer-holidaying Aucklanders. The information on these pages tells a little of the history and present status of some of the more popular Hauraki Gulf destinations and includes contact numbers for more detailed information.

Browns Island

Browns Island

This is a low volcanic hill of 60 hectares at the mouth of the Tamaki River.

Named Motukorea (island of the pied oystercatcher bird) by Maori, it was purchased by William Brown who took up residence with Dr John Logan Campbell in 1840 and started a pig farm while waiting for the siting of Auckland, the new capital, where they planned to set up business.

It was eventually owned by Auckland businessman and benefactor, Sir Ernest Davis, who presented it to the city in 1956.

The island is a public recreation reserve managed by the Department of Conservation. Care has to be taken when landing as the coastline is particularly shallow and rocky below half-tide.

There is no regular ferry service, and while camping is not permitted day visitors are welcome to explore the volcanic cones and historic sites. The island can be reached by private boat or hired kayak.

The coastal margin particularly on the southern side is a nesting habitat for the endangered New Zealand dotterel. Please do not disturb these birds.

Information: Department of Conservation (Auckland visitor centre) (09) 379 6476


motuihe island

This small island of 179 hectares lies between Motutapu and Waiheke Islands some 11 km northeast of Auckland. Purchased by the Crown in 1872, it was a quarantine station for many years.

During World War I, Germans living in New Zealand and Samoa were interned along with prisoners of war. Notable among them was 'Sea Wolf', the dashing Lt. Cdr. Count Felix von Luckner, who with his sailing ship "Seeadler" accounted for 86,000 tons of allied shipping before being captured in the Cook Islands. In 1917 von Luckner and his crew made a daring escape from Motuihe, commandeered a vessel and sailed over 900 km north where they were eventually captured at the Kermadec Islands.

Motuihe hosted a naval base from 1940 to 1963. The island then reverted from being farmed land, to a pest free recreational reserve and historic place.

With its attractive swimming beaches on either side of the narrow isthmus, that offer sheltered conditions in any winds, it is very popular for day visitors during summer months.

The island is administered by the Department of Conservation.

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

The youngest of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto emerged from the sea around 700 years ago in a series of volcanic explosions. Rising to a height of 260 metres the circular island presents the same uniform appearance and is visible from most parts of the mainland. Rangitoto's name has been translated to mean the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed, relating to a major Maori battle at Islington Bay about 1350. Rangitoto is an icon of Auckland city.

Situated about 8 km northeast of Auckland and connected to Motutapu Island by a causeway, Rangitoto is a large island of 2311 hectares with a wonderful volcanic landscape that supports over 200 species of moss, plants and trees including the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world. It was purchased by the Crown in 1854, set aside as a recreation reserve in 1890 and for over 30 years the island's volcanic scoria was quarried and shipped to Auckland. Between 1925 and 1936 prison labour built roads on the island and a track to the summit.

There are some 10 or so short and long walks around the island and from the summit there are magnificent views of the Hauraki Gulf, the Waitemata Harbour and Auckland city.

There is no visitor accommodation on Rangitoto, although there is a campsite at Home Bay and an Outdoor Education Camp on adjoining Motutapu Island.

Information: Department of Conservation (Auckland Visitor Centre) phone: (09) 379 6476 Rangitoto Island Heritage Conservation Trust phone: (09) 634 1398

Getting there: Fullers ferries


Motutapu Island

This is a large loaf shaped island of rolling grassed hills, attached to Rangitoto Island by a causeway, 2 km across from Motuihe and some 15 km northeast from Auckland.

The name translated means sacred island. Now a farmed reserve within the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, it contains a walkway of 3.5 km that lead from the west side near the causeway to Rangitoto across to Home Bay, a journey of some three hours.

On the north side in Administration Bay are ex-military barracks of World War II that are now used by the Motutapu Outdoor Education Camp Trust as accommodation for school, family and corporate groups as part of outdoor camps and field trips.

Accommodation is available at the Department of Conservation camp ground in Home Bay and The Motutapu outdoor Education Camp. Bookings are essential for both.

There is voluntary replanting being carried out on Motutapu by the Motutapu Island Restoration Trust.

Information: Department of Conservation (Auckland Visitor Centre) phone (09) 379 6476

Tiritiri Matangi Island

Tiritiri Matangi Island

Lying some 4 km east offshore from the tip of Whangaparaoa Peninsula about 25 km north of Auckland, this bare island is reverting to its original forest nature under an extensive planting programme.

Some 218 hectares in area with steeply rising cliffs and only one good sandy beach, it is home to the oldest lighthouse in the gulf, erected in 1864 and subsequently upgraded one hundred years later with a beacon fifty times more powerful than the old light, extending its beam for 48 km making it the brightest in the southern hemisphere.

Now an open sanctuary, the public are free to visit and venture down the five main walking tracks to enjoy some of New Zealand's more unusual and rare fauna and bird life. The island's name means, wind tossing about. Regular ferry services available from Auckland or Gulf Harbour at Whangaparaoa Peninsula.

Information: Department of Conservation (Auckland Visitor Centre) phone (09) 379 6476

Motu Kaikoura

Motu Kaikoura

Motu Kaikoura (Kaikoura Island or Selwyn Island ) is situated to the west of Great Barrier Island protecting the entrance to Port Fitzroy Harbour. Typical of the islands in the outer Hauraki Gulf, it is rugged, remote and there are no regular ferry services.

At its nearest point Motu Kaikoura is as close as 80m to Great Barrier Island, across the 'Man-of-War Passage', and a similar distance from Nelson Island to the west. The Port Fitzroy and Port Abercrombie Harbours are a favourite with yachtsmen as it provides them with shelter in any weather. Being so close, Motu Kaikoura is often considered as part of Great Barrier and they have similar geology and ecology.

The Motu Kaikoura Trust is responsible for the islands ecosystem restoration, accommodation, events and volunteer days. The island was opened as a scenic reserve on May 7th by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Conservation Minister Chris Carter.

There are no scheduled ferry or flight services to Motu Kaikoura (Kaikoura Island). We do have an airstrip (landing permission needed) and jetty for those who can arrange their own transport. Kaidoura Island is managed by the Motu Kaikoura Trust.

Information: Kaikoura Island information

Kawau Island

Kawau Island

This bush covered island is a popular marine holiday resort about 8 km offshore from Sandspit, north of Auckland City. It is approximately 8 km long and 5 km wide being almost split into two by the 3 km inlet Bon Accord Harbour. Both native bush and exotic trees cover most of the island with some farming land and a number of holiday homes tucked away in the he many bays of its heavily indented inlets on the west coast.

Originally purchased from Maori in 1837, manganese deposits were mined by a Scottish company until 1842 when it began mining the newly discovered copper deposits. Other miners and speculators arrived and the settlement of Swansea was established in the bay of the same name. For two decades mining was successfully carried out and remains of the smelting house are still intact at the head of the bay.

In 1862 Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, purchased the island and enlarged and renovated the mine manager's home to create the gracious Mansion House which is now the name of the bay in which it is situated. He developed the area into a botanical and zoological park, importing all kinds of exotic and subtropical plants and animals, some of which are still evident today. The house, now owned by the Department of Conservation has been fully restored and is open daily for inspection.

Access is by ferry that departs regularly from Sandspit, 7 km east of Warkworth. A popular venue for the boating fraternity, the island and environs offer many delightful spots for both day and longer term visitors. There are many easy walks over and around the island, and while there are several holiday and retirement homes, accommodation is limited.

Information: Department of Conservation (Auckland Visitor Centre) phone (09) 379 6476

Little Barrier Island

Little Barrier Island

This is a mountainous and densely forested island sanctuary situated between Kawau and Great Barrier Islands 85 km northeast of Auckland. Some 2,817 hectares in area and rising steeply to a height of 722 m, it is a flora and fauna reserve, one of a few forest sanctuaries in New Zealand undisturbed by browsing animals.

There is an abundance of rare native birds and also some of the lizard-like tuatara, the oldest known living prehistoric animal.

Named by Captain James Cook, the Maori name, Hauturu (resting place of the wind) probably refers to the cap of clouds so often seen over the island. A permit is required before landing and access is either by launch or amphibian aircraft.

Information: Department of Conservation (Auckland Visitor Centre) phone (09) 379 6476

Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island

Situated 90 kilometers northeast of Auckland city lies Great Barrier Island, which has an area of 285 square kilometers and is nearly 45 kilometers long.

With beautiful stretches of white sand ocean beaches on the east coast and sheltered coves and bays on the west, the whole island lies spread to the sea from its dramatic mountain ranges. The island's highest point is Mount Hobson (Hirakimata) at 621 meters.

A haven of peace and tranquility, wilderness and rare bird life, the major tourist attractions include a variety of walking tracks through native bush, fishing, diving kayaking, boating, horse riding, golf and bird watching.

Information: Greater Barrier Island

Getting there: Fullers Ferries


Great Barrier Airlines

Fly My Sky

Pakatoa Island

Pakatoa Island

This is a small, privately owned resort island situated 3 km off the east coast of Waiheke Island and some 45 km from Auckland. The name means to flow with the tide.

The island is some 24 hectares in size and it does not exceed 60 meters in height.

The island was purchased in 1964 by Sir Robert Kerridge who developed it into a holiday resort with self-contained chalets, a hotel with all amenities, heated swimming pool, boats for hire and miniature golf course.

Pakatoa has recently been sold to new owners who provide holiday and conference facilities.

Information: Pakatoa Island Resort phone (09) 372 9002

Rakino Island

Rakino Island

Rakino is a small island of approximately 146 hectares (lying north-east of Motutapu Island ). The island is 2.4km long and about 1.2km wide.

The two most popular bays have public access, but three others also have access from the sea. There are smaller bays and beaches without public access. The public wharf is at the south end of Sandy Bay, and a barge access ramp is at the western end of Sanford Way in Home Bay.

The hilly topography comprises a fertile layer of volcanic topsoil from Rangitoto that overlays a thick mantle of clay soil which in turn overlays greywacke rock. The island is mostly in pasture with pockets of coastal pohutukawa.

There are approximately 76 dwellings on Rakino Island (mainly holiday accommodation) with a permanent population of approximately 16.

Rakino, with its few permanent residents and its small size, little opportunity for economic growth, and with a limited public ferry service has little attraction for commuters. Residents welcome its isolation and privacy, and manage with basic services and an attitude of self sufficiency.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

After Great Barrier, this is the largest island (9,324 hectares) within the Hauraki Gulf. It is 26 km long and 19 km across at its widest point, with rolling hills that reach 230 meters at the highest point.

Its name translated means cascading waters which refers to the waterfalls now within the Whakanewha Regional Park. It is a unique island settlement close to Auckland with a resident population of about 7,000 spread out around the numerous bays and beaches mainly grouped at the western end.

The island's Maori history follows the classical pattern of one tribe conquering and ousting another such that in the 1820's after frequent raids by Hongi Heke and his warriors there can not have been many inhabitants.

In 1837 Waiheke was described as "shores bold and craggy and thickly timbered to the waters edge" but by 1850 the best of her timber had been felled. Waiheke East was the first settled part of the island, being a holiday resort for the then major mining town of Thames and Auckland.

The western end was mainly Maori land and the few Europeans were nearly all gentlemen farmers of means. One such landowner was Fred Alison who in 1901 bought Oneroa (long sandy beach) and Matiatia. He fenced and grassed hundreds of hectares and when he sold Oneroa in 1922 the urban development of Waiheke began.

During World War II the army built huge concrete gun emplacements and dug mole-like mazes of tunnels at the eastern end on the hill "Stony Batter". Open to the public they offer both an insight to the extent of defence preparations and wonderful views of the southern end of the Hauraki Gulf.

Now this attractive and growing area which is an island suburb to Auckland, has major communities at Oneroa, Palm Beach, Onetangi (beach of mourning) on the north side with Rocky Bay, Ostend, Surfdale, Kennedy's Bay and Blackpool on the south.

Referred to as a magical island paradise, Waiheke offers wonderful clean, safe, sandy swimming beaches, delightful walks with spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf, visits to established vineyards (22 are established), an exciting display of New Zealand arts and Crafts at Artworks above Oneroa, restaurants, cafes and a variety of accommodation from top class resort to beach lodges to backpackers lodgings and a youth hostel.

Other activities include island explorer bus tours, sea kayaking, horse riding, golf, fishing and diving, visiting the museum, walks in the Forest and Bird reserve at Onetangi, or the Whakanewha Regional Park near Rocky Bay, and exploring the island by scooter, bicycle, bus or rental car.

Information: Waiheke Island Visitor Information Office phone (09) 372 9919 Auckland Regional Parks Service - Parksline phone (09) 303 1530 Royal NZ Forest and Bird Protection Society phone (09) 303 3079


Waiheke Tourism

Getting there: Waiheke is only 35 minutes from Auckland by ferry, there are regular daily departures - visit Fullers for details. Car ferries depart at regular times from Half Moon Bay marina to land at Kennedy Point, visit Sealink for more information.

Other Islands

Department of Conservation (09) 379 6476 for:

  • Motuora (near Kawau Island)
  • Moturekareka (near Kawau Island)
  • Noises Group (near Rakino Island)
  • Rakitu (Arid) Island (near Great Barrier Island)
Katharine Tate | I’m a native of Massachusetts, where I earned bachelor's degrees in Health: Science, Society, and Policy and Sculpture from Brandeis University. I enjoy assisting and inspiring women in all aspects of their lives, and I consider myself a partner in their OB an GYN treatment. I particularly enjoy forming relationships with young women and assisting them in determining their healthcare needs and goals. I love to travel, create metal and fiber art, cook, and spend time outside. Also, I’m fluent in both German and American Sign Language.


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