For many people visiting Auckland, the city has so much appeal, with Mission Bay just a hop,skip and a jump from the main city and a great range of things to do in and around the CBD, however there is also a wide range of beautiful islands within close proximity to the city - some of which you could even kayak to, if you were so inclined.
If you’re looking for a quick day trip out on a kayak or small boat, you might like to check out Motukorea, or Oyster Catcher Island, which has been inhabited for centuries and was intensively occupied in pre-European times, with people engaged in stone working industry, marine exploitation, gardening and evidence of three pa sites. The English name - Browns Island came about when William Brown and Logan Campbell bought the island in 1840, where they settled and ran pigs on the island.
The island is now renowned as home to one of the best preserved volcanoes in the Auckland volcanic field and the island includes one main scoria cone, with a deep crater. While it is not your typical “island paradise,” it is a very interesting piece of New Zealand history and has calm waters to swim in from Crater Bay, the only part of the island that isn’t tidal and rocky.
The 178 million year old island is larger and has a wider array of island life that Browns Island, and with a campsite close to the beach, there is plenty to explore on one of the oldest land masses in the Hauraki Gulf.
As a pest-free island, there is plenty of native flora, fauna and animal life to be seen if you know what you are looking for. If you are an experienced kayaker and choose to visit the island that way, expect it to take about three hours and make your way to Home Bay. You can also go by boat or ferry or walk across from neighbouring Rangitoto Island on the man-made causeway.
Motutapu has been home to a range of people for centuries, with preserved human and dog prints found on the layers of volcanic ash, left over from Rangitoto’s eruption over 600 years ago. Pa sites as well as a homestead built in 1901 can be found along the island and more recently, gun emplacements set up as Auckland’s defences in World War Two.
As another pest-free island, Rangitoto has strict rules relating to keeping shoes clean and pests off the island. Many people choose to stay at Motutapu and walk around both islands and while Mototapu boasts beautiful sub-tropical beaches, Rangitoto’s popular summit track will take you through the world's largest pohutukawa forest. The peak is 259 metres above sea level, so you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. On your hike, you will come across lava fields, some of which you can delve into.
Thanks to the pest eradication, many native birds have returned to the island including the kākāriki, bellbird and the kākā. Tūī as well as fantail, grey warblers, silvereye and moreporks can also be found on the island.
There are also two thriving nesting colonies of black-backed gulls, one near the Rangitoto Wharf and the other near the Beacon at McKenzie Bay.
If birds are not your thing, you might be interested in the lizards that can be found on the island. These include the Copper and Suter’s skinks, which were known to exist on Rangitoto before pest-eradication. The Moko skink, common gecko and Pacific gecko were detected a few years after pest-eradication, when their numbers increased to a detectable level.
For those who aren’t as interested in hiking or camping and would prefer the simple luxuries of a warm shower and cooking facilities, Kawau Island is an inhabited village island with a variety of holiday baches and homes to let. Cafes and restaurants as well as shopping areas are also found on the island, as well as the famous Mansion House, which was built as an extension to an existing mining cottage in 1862, by Sir George Grey, one of the first governors in the country.
The home still sits in Mansion House Bay and is fully restored along with hundreds of different trees and plants in Mansion House Valley, as well as orchards and a 13-acre olive grove. The pines and other exotic tree species, peacocks, wekas and wallabies seen in Mansion House Valley today are all legacies of Sir George Grey.
The most populated and second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island is renowned for good wine, good food and amazing scenery. Easily accessible via ferry from the mainland, there are buses that take you from the main bus stop, or you can bring your own car across on the vehicle ferry. To stay overnight, you can rent a beach house and wake up to the sound of the waves, if you’re on a budget, go to a friendly backpacker hostel.
On Waiheke, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding things to do. From gourmet wine tours, through to guided nature walks, the tourism industry is booming.
A little different from the rest in that it is not far from the mainland and as long as you are a relatively good swimmer, you can probably float out to the island if you choose. Goat Island Marine Reserve is packed with fish, and even attracts a few dolphins and orcas. It is accessible from Leigh in Warkworth and can be seen from the sandy beach, which is very popular during the summer.
This marine reserve is named after the little island (Goat Island or Motu Hawere) that sits just 100 metres off the beach. A glass-bottom boat tour can be taken or those who don’t want to get wet, however most people choose to jump in the water and snorkel away the day, checking out the variety of ocean life including brilliant Blue Mao Mao, Leatherjackets and giant Snapper, to name a few.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
Located only 30 kilometres north east of central Auckland and just four kilometres from the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, you can access this island via ferry or boat. Along with the regular visitors to the islands of Auckland, you may also meet Little Blue Penguins and Takahe.
The name of the island means ‘tossed by the wind because ancient Māori mythology considered the island to be a float of an ancestral fishing net.
Over 250,000 native trees and shrubs of over 30 different species were planted in the revegetation project from 1984 to 1994 and he island is slowly returning to its native pest-free beginnings. It is also a popular destination for day trippers,attracting some 30,000 visitors annually.
Whether you choose to take on the almost three hour kayak to the island, or just take a boat, Motuihe Island is a great stopping off spot for swimming, relaxing and camping for a few nights at the Department of Conservation camp site. Like many of the other islands, native bird species have been released on to Motuihe, as part of a conservation project and can be heard and witnessed throughout the day and night. Motuihe is situated close to Waiheke and accessible by ferry or sea plane. Interestingly, this island was utilised as a quarantine station for those suffering from scarlet fever. During the First World War, the station was used as an internment camp, which was home to Count Felix von Luckner, a German nobleman, naval officer, author, and sailor and his crew from the SMS Seeadler. The Captain organised an escape from the island in 1917 but was quickly recaptured (and escaped again later on down the track) when he sailed to the Kermadec Islands on a scow.
While these are the top islands we checked out, there are plenty more beautiful places to visit around the Auckland region, most of which include sandy bays, great historical landmarks and an experience that will be talked about for generations to come. This summer, it might be a cheaper and more exciting experience to bring your family and friends to those beautiful gems on Auckland’s doorstep.