We are spoilt for choice, in New Zealand, when it comes to finding beautiful islands just a hop, skip and a jump (or swim) from our back door. In this edition, we travel down to the bottom of the North Island, beginning with the stunningly beautiful Kapiti Island, and on to the South Island, which has its own unique set of rugged and majestic island getaways.
Beginning on the west coast across from Paraparaumu beach, Kapiti Island is an island hoppers paradise that you might never want to leave. The island is 10 kilometres long and two kilometres wide, with an enviable population of native species that have been protected for decades. Along with a wide array of bird life, including Tui, Korimako (Bellbird), Ruru (Morepork), Kiwi, Kaka, Saddleback and the Stitchbird, two areas of sea, either side of Kapiti Island, also make up a substantial marine reserve and this includes a sanctuary for native freshwater fish, such as whitebait, to lay their eggs.
A variety of tours are available for guests to the island, including the ‘overnight Kiwi-spotting tour’, which gives you the chance to see one of our national birds in its habitat at night. There is also a day tour available for those interested in finding out more about the islands rich history and beauty. To get there you can go on a ferry from Paraparaumu Beach, which leaves at approximately 9:00am, and returns around 3:00pm.
Travel across the Cook Strait and you’re spoilt for choice with a variety of islands at the top of the South Island, beginning with the remote D’Urville Island.
The outermost island in the Marlborough Sounds is home to approximately 40 permanent residents, but is a popular spot for those who want a bit of time away from the beaten track, where time stands still. The island was named after French explorer and the author of The New Zealanders: A story of Austral land Jules Dumont d’Urville who, as a supporter of keeping the language alive, would have preferred the original name Rangitoto Ki Te Tonga, which loosely translates to mean red skies south. While this island is not far away from the mainland, the choppy seas that surround it make it very difficult to get to, something d’Urville himself found while trying to navigate his ship, the l’astrolabe through the ocean to the island.
In order to get to the remote island, you need to take the winding road to Okiwi Bay and down the unsealed Croisilles-French Pass Road before you can take a water taxi. You can also get to Okiwi Bay on the Magic Eco Tours mail run.
Known also as Te Pākeka, Maud Island is a predator-free scientific reserve which is a sanctuary for rare and endemic native species and situated in the centre of the Marlborough Sounds. The name Te Pākeka refers to the gardening that took place on the island during early Maori occupation. While visits are by permission only, it is worth noting this island for its special place in conservation. Maud Island is home to New Zealand’s rarest lizard - the Stephens Island striped gecko and is also home to the common gecko, forest gecko, and brown skink as well as the speckled skink, which was introduced as part of the biodiversity restoration.
The island is also a stronghold for the giant flesh-eating snail Powelliphanta hochstetteri obscura, the Cook Strait click beetle and the flax weevil. In order to visit the island you would need to get a permit and be part of a scientific group or, possibly as part of an educational trip. The strict guidelines are adhered to because of the danger of contamination from the mainland.
On the other side of the Sounds, you will find the picturesque Arapaoa Island (formerly known as Arapawa Island), which is where Captain James Cook first witnessed the sea passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea, which would go on to be named Cook Strait. The island is home to a range of pigs, sheep and goats, which, some believe, were introduced by the early whalers, or Captain Cook. These breeds are said to be now extinct in England. Just across from the island, is the smaller two main islands and a number of smaller islets, known as the Brothers Islands. This is a nature reserve for the Brothers Island tuatara and the site of the Brothers Island Lighthouse. The Māori name for the group, Ngāwhatu-kai-ponu literally means "the eyes that witnessed", and the islands are considered tapu.
Accomodation is available at the Arapawa Homestead or there are a variety of Airbnb options on the island, or close by. Visitors can access the island via boat, water taxi or ferry from Picton.
Travel further west, down into Tasman Bay and you will find a quick 10-minute ferry ride from the Mapua Wharf will transport you to a stunning island covered in pine trees, with a 13 kilometre tidal beach. Unlike the other islands mentioned above, Rabbit Island is the perfect spot to enjoy for a day, and it is so close to the mainland that you can even drive across a bridge to get to it. The island is surrounded by wineries, beautiful scenery and farmland and is the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll or jump on the back of a bike and ride around the island. Bikes are available for hire on the island and you can begin the trip on the island and complete it on the mainland.
In the next edition, elocal checks out the rugged, and sometimes isolated islands further down the South Island and note the sharp contrast between the sunny, sandy beaches of the north and the more dramatic coastline of the south.