Head offshore to explore some of our intriguing islands. © The Coromandel

10 intriguing islands to visit this summer


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With 14,000 kilometres of coastline and a multitude of lakes, there are hundreds of intriguing islands scattered in and around New Zealand just waiting to be explored. 

1. Chatham Islands

Not only the first place in the world to welcome the New Year, the Chatham Islands also have their own time zone – 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand. Reached by a two-hour flight from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, the Chathams consist of main Chatham Island, smaller Pitt Island and an archipelago of eight smaller islands on the outskirts. Here, you’ll find sandy beaches, hardy locals, and the epic Te Whanga Lagoon that makes up a large portion of the main island. The Chatham Islands are rugged, rural and really remote.

2. Matiu Somes Island, Wellington

Matiu Somes Island is the largest of three islands in Wellington’s harbour. With a colourful history as an internment camp, a quarantine station for both animals and humans, and a military defence point, today Matiu Somes Island is a fascinating spot for a day trip. Regular ferries depart from Wellington City to get here. Pack a picnic and your walking shoes.

3. Rotoroa Island, Auckland

As an addiction-treatment centre for nearly 100 years, for many, Rotoroa Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf was a place of sanctuary, though not all its inhabitants survived to beat their demons. The architecturally designed and carefully curated visitor centre is an unexpected find.The centre tells the story of the island’s fascinating and moving history through photographs, informative displays and sound recordings.

4. Ulva Island, Southland

A short boat ride from Oban on Rakiura Stewart Island delivers you to Ulva Island, an open island sanctuary that is teeming with birdlife. Never milled and pest-free since 1997, the island offers threatened native species a safe haven in which to flourish. And they have. Healthy populations of kiwi, saddleback and yellowhead can be found – birds which often struggle on the mainland.

5. Mokoia Island, Rotorua

Mokoia Island, on Lake Rotorua, is both a sanctuary for endangered wildlife and a sacred site for Te Arawa, the local iwi. Māori legend tells the story of Tūtānekai, a young Māori warrior who lived on the island, calling to his love Hinemoa with his flute. Hinemoa defied her family's wishes and swam to Tūtānekai from the shores of Lake Rotorua in the dead of night to be with her one true love. Today, you can visit the island on a guided tour to learn about the island’s history, local conservation work and experience the unique geothermal springs, known as Hinemoa’s Pool.  

6. Waewaetorea Island, Bay of Islands

In a part of New Zealand literally named for its islands, Waewaetorea stands out above the rest. Just off the coast of Russell, arriving at this deserted island is like setting foot on paradise. Waewaetorea Island boasts sheltered white sand beaches, clear water perfect for snorkelling, easy walks and an interesting archaeological history from the days when many iwi inhabited and fought over this prized location.

7. Motuara Island, Marlborough Sounds

On the outskirts of Queen Charlotte Sound, you’ll find Motuara Island. The island is another carefully preserved eco-sanctuary, home to many rare and endangered native birds. Here, plump kererū whoosh across the track, saddlebacks tīeke dart through the bushes, bellbird korimako provide a soothing soundtrack, and inquisitive South Island robins flutter from the undergrowth to sit on your shoes. On the short walk to the top of the island, where you can take in spectacular views of the Sounds and across Cook Strait, stop and lift the lid on some of the many penguin nesting boxes that line the track. Inside, you’ll undoubtedly spot Little Blue penguins and their fluffy black chicks.

8. Matakana Island, Bay of Plenty

Bordering Tauranga Harbour, Matakana Island is a long, narrow strip of land, mostly planted in forestry pines with a white sand beach on the seaward side. Just over 250 people live on the island and while there are no shops or amenities here, it’s a popular place to surf. At high tide, a powerful north-easterly swell produces great sand barrels along the ocean side of the island, suitable for experienced surfers. Keep an eye out for endangered dotterels nesting on the beach. 

9. Mou Waho Island, Wānaka

For something a little different, visit Mou Waho, the largest of several islands on Lake Wānaka. Geologically interesting due to the glacially scoured Arethusa Pool (earlier named Moutimu by Māori, then Paradise Lake) in the middle of the island, it sits 150 metres above the main lake level. On Mou Waho, you can have the unique and mind-twisting experience of swimming in a lake on an island on a lake.  

10. Whenuakura Island, Coromandel

Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary aka Donut Island is a sacred spot with a hidden lagoon just off the coast of Whangamatā. Whenuakura is a spiritual place for local iwi and many Whangamatā locals. You can get to the island by kayak or SUP, but the environment is fragile and the journey potentially perilous in the wrong conditions, so do it right and go with a certified local guide. Arriving at Donut Island you will pass through a narrow rock archway to reach the remarkable secluded lagoon in the island’s centre.

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