It’s probably not surprising, considering we live in one of the most isolated countries in the world, that us Kiwis love to fly the coop and travel around the world to far flung destinations and there’s nothing we love more than visiting warm climates for the summer, where we can lay on the beach, get a tan and check out the stunning views.
While places like Rarotonga, Hawaii and Samoa might be on the top of most people’s ‘must visit’ lists, we often overlook the fact that New Zealand is home to approximately 600 different islands of varying climates and sizes.
Rather than packing that passport, organising travel insurance and travelling for miles on a cramped plane, maybe it’s time the family and friends visited an one of the many stunning islands right on our doorstep? Lucy Mullinger checks out some of the best islands to travel to around the country. Beginning at the top of the island in the aptly named - Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands encompasses 140 subtropical islands - most of which are unspoilt by tourism. At 208ha, the largest island in the group is Urupukapuka island, which is named after the puka tree, which used to flourish on the island and continues to be found around the region.
If you’re looking for luxury accomodation, you probably will be disappointed, but what’s a great kiwi holiday without a bit of camping? With three camp-sites on the island to choose between, all of which charge extremely affordable rates, you are able to take your time and explore the island at your leisure - with the added bonus, that Urupukapuka is centrally located for a bit of island hopping, if you have a boat or some kayaks, which can be hired on the island.
Before you visit the island, make sure you get the most out of your experience by booking a scuba diving experience at Otehei Bay (the entrance bay to the island) from the office in Paihia. You can also book a ferry to the bay, which leaves Paihia and Russell at regular intervals throughout the day and there are a variety of fun experiences to partake in, which include a six-hour cultural experience, where you will be greeted at Otehei Bay by a Pōwhiri welcome, before enjoying cultural workshops in flax weaving, Māori remedies and Poi dance. The opportunity to take a guided walk around the island and enjoy traditional Māori food, is also available.
For those who love checking out the flora and fauna, there is a wide range of walking tracks on the island, from one-hour walks through to five-hour hikes, with the 7.3 km Urupukapuka Island Archaeological Walk being one of the most notable for its panoramic views and preserved sites which may be up to 1,000 years old. These include Māori pa, villages, gardens, and food storage, right up to early 20th Century buildings which housed the Zane Grey Sporting Club lodge and camp, used by famous author Zane Grey, who visited the area regularly for big-game fishing. While there are no hotels on the island, there is a café in Otehei Bay, as well as a Dining Ferry, where you can enjoy local cuisine on the water.
Motuarohia is another beautiful spot to visit in the area. Purchased in 1839, by a whaling ship captain named John Roberton, this island has a very interesting past with Māori people living on the land for centuries before it was sold by the Ngāpuhi chiefs at the time. It would only be a year before Roberton would die in a boat accident and his family would go on to be massacred a year later, by Maketū Wharetōtara - the 17-year-old son of a Ngapuhi chief, Ruhe of Waimate, after an altercation between the family and the young man, who had been working on the land, for them, at the time. The boy would later be the first person to be legally hanged in New Zealand history, for his crime.
With no public facilities and a stunning lagoon to swim about in, travelling to Motuarohia is like travelling back in time and it is not surprising that it can be translated into English to mean ‘beloved island’.
Moturoa Island is another picturesque spot within the general vicinity, with a scenic reserve that includes native forest as well as the sounds of its inhabitants which include the North Island saddleback/tīeke, whitehead/pōpokotea and red-crowned parakeet/kākāriki. They share Moturua with fantails, silver eyes, finches, sparrows, tuis, blackbirds and thrushes.
New Zealand dotterel/tūturiwhatu have also been reintroduced onto the island, after being on the brink of extinction. You may also hear the North Island brown kiwi calling out at night time.
The island has a headland pa, gardening sites and terraces and pits that still remain from the original habitation. It also has an interesting settler history, with Captain Cook anchoring off hte island in 1769, where he traded with the local people.
Soon after, the french explorer, Marion Du Fresne and his crew set up temporary camp on the island for three months in Wai-iti and Waipao Bay. It wasn’t long before the crew was attacked when they were fishing in Te Kuri’s cove and, in retaliation, the french ransacked the local pa and burnt it to the ground. During this time many Māori warriors were killed. A week later, the remaining French sailed out of the bay and left a claim to the land in a bottle.
Finally, Waewaetorea Island is another stunningly beautiful island to visit, while you are in the region. In 1772, Marion Du Fresne would visit this island as well and while he didn’t kill anyone this time, he did write down about an incident where he visited the “fortified, palisaded” villages of the island and traded copious amounts of fish and kumara with the local people, for a rusty, old nail.
While you immerse yourself in the history of the island, you might like to relax on the sun-drenched beach at the sheltered haven of Stockyard bay, or swim in the pristine waters that surround the island.
Whether you choose to make the mainland towns of Paihia or Russell your stopping off spots, or you check out the many islands that surround the region, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to beauty, interesting history and things to do. Another great way to visit the islands is to check out the Hole in the Rock or Cream Trip tours.
The Fullers Cream Trip takes you on the original cream trip route, where mail and supplies were dropped off to island residents, who would otherwise have had no access to the mainland without travelling there themselves. The trip goes from Paihia or Russell and travels to the Cape Brett Lighthouse, on to the Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island as well as the Black Rocks and Marsden Cross where the first Christian sermon took place in New Zealand in 1814.
The Hole in the Rock tour gives you a three-hour trip out to the rock, where you can, if weather permits, travel through the hole as well as possibly get the chance to swim with dolphins and check out the marine life.
In the next five editions of elocal, we will check out more beautiful islands, of varying climates and with varying levels of luxury, that can be found further south of the Bay of Islands, in this beautiful country we call home. From the sub-tropical islands of the north to the sub-antarctic isles of the south, we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to navigating a wide spectrum of islands in the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea. Island hopping really is the thing to do this summer.