Cathedral Cove. ©Tourism NZ

Whanganui A Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve

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This marine reserve on the Coromandel Peninsula is adjacent to some of the most beautiful – and popular – coastline in this area.

Whanganui A Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve is part of the region first claimed by Hei, a tohunga (priest) on Te Arawa waka at the time of the Polynesian migration to New Zealand, circa 1350 AD.

Hei settled his people in the area around Mercury Bay on the Coromandel, asserting ownership by referring to Motueka Island as Te Kuraetanga-o-taku-Ihu (The outward curve of my nose). It is said he made this claim near the present-day site of Hahei. Hei’s descendants, as Tangata Whenua, still retain a strong ancestral and spiritual attachment to the site, and continue their role as guardians, or kaitiaki, of the resources within it.

Visitors to this marine reserve will see sandy flats, reefs, boulder and many different sea creatures and plants that live there and, of course, take a walk along the coast to see the very popular Cathedral Cove.


This reserve has rich and varied marine and coastal life. Hard rock reefs and soft sandy bottoms house communities of plants, crustaceans, molluscs and fish. Crayfish and black angelfish hide in the cracks and crevices of the reefs around Mahurangi Island and in the large boulder fields near Motueka Island, curious schools of sweep may follow divers.

Delicate corals, usually found at depth, are close to the surface in Poikeke Island cave. Closer to shore, brittle starfish might be found on rocky platforms and red moki graze amid forests of seaweed. Predators like the leather-jacket feed on the smaller animals.

There are guided and hire options for snorkelling and kayaking at Cathedral Cove. There are also glass-bottomed boat tours available.

There is a well-marked snorkel trail at Gemstone Bay. Marker buoys with information panels depict which species inhabit each area. 

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