Unique islands of the Hauraki Gulf
It should be compulsory!
- If you are visiting Auckland you must include a day trip to at least one of our 50 plus unique islands in our beautiful Hauraki Gulf harbour. Lonely Planet named Auckland harbour and the Hauraki Gulf the best experience in New Zealand!
- What other country in the world has a magnificent volcanic island overlooking its biggest city that you can climb? Each island is unique! Swim in pristine, uncrowded beaches. There are walking trails, wine tasting, wildlife sanctuaries, bird lovers paradises, sunset kayak trips, and interesting historical sights on offer.
- Here is your guide to 10 of the best island day trips from Auckland (and one non-island marine reserve.) Enjoy your trip!
In this post:
- Unique islands of the Hauraki Gulf
- 1. WAIHEKE ISLAND
- 2. RANGITOTO ISLAND
- 3. MOTUTAPU ISLAND (Sacred Island)
- 4. TIRITIRI MATANGI ISLAND
- 5. ROTOROA ISLAND
- 6. RAKINO ISLAND
- 7. MOTUIHE ISLAND / Te Motu-a-Ihenga
- 8. KAWAU ISLAND / TE KAWAUTUMARO O TOI
- 9. BROWNS ISLAND / MOTUKOREA (“island of the pied oyster catcher bird”)
- 10. GREAT BARRIER ISLAND / AOTEA
- 11. GOAT ISLAND MARINE RESERVE
1. WAIHEKE ISLAND
By far, the most popular island day trip in Auckland for both locals and overseas guests has to be a day trip to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf! The very, very popular Waiheke Island is often listed as one of the best islands in the world with its beaches, vineyards, olive groves, top restaurants, and art studios. It is a complete one-day trip.
40 minute ferry ride
It’s a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland across the sparkling Waitemata Harbour past the iconic dormant volcano island that is Rangitoto Island and a world away from big city living! You will find sandy, pristine beaches, lined with the unique New Zealand Pohutukawa trees. These trees are very iconic New Zealand trees and are also known as the New Zealand Christmas trees because they bloom with rich red flowers at Christmas.
40 km of beaches
Waiheke Island has over 133 km of coastline and 40 km of beaches, The most popular are Onetangi Beach, Oneroa Beach, and Palm Beach and they are great for picnicking and swimming. There is a great network of walking tracks throughout the island, which showcase the New Zealand flora and fauna, and birdlife. You can rent a kayak, go mountain biking, or ziplining through the trees if you want some action.
Over 30 boutique vineyards
Waiheke Island has over 30 boutique vineyards with stunning views from their tasting rooms and restaurants and linger over a long lunch that features delicious local and seasonal produce. Cable Bay and Mudbrick vineyards are both walking distance from the ferry terminals. There is an information desk at the ferry terminal on Waiheke Island and they will help you with what’s on and where to go.
Art & music
There is a public bus network, a hop-on-hop-off bus with interesting itineraries, and bike and car rentals are available. Waiheke Island was once an alternative lifestyle, hippy area and still has many interesting art studios. Every two years in February and March there is the interesting outdoor Sculpture Exhibition located on a walking trail and a very popular jazz festival takes place over Easter.
HOW TO GET THERE? Fullers Ferry from Auckland and Devonport
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 40 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $42 return
Auckland Seaplanes operate flights from the Viaduct Harbour to Waiheke Island, Kawau Island and Great Barrier Island and island hopping opportunities and scenic and charter flights over the Hauraki Gulf.
2. RANGITOTO ISLAND
Rangitoto is Auckland’s most famous island as it can be seen from nearly anywhere in the Auckland Harbour. Just look out towards the sea and you will see the perfectly cone-shaped, volcanic island.
Hiking- great views!
If you love hiking and nature and want to see Auckland from a different perspective then make sure you visit this Island. The views are stunning and the most popular hike is the summit track which takes around 2 hours return and takes you through a Pohutukawa forest and lava fields before arriving at the summit, where you have amazing views of Auckland, the harbour, and Motutapu Island. Pre covid there was a 4WD tractor train that did a tour of the island. Hopefully, it will start operating again soon.
This island is a pest free island and much care is taken to make sure that no food, seeds or soil is brought onto the island or left on the Island. Expect to see native plants and birds on this island.
30 minute ferry ride or kayak
Rangitoto is just a 30 minutes ferry ride from Auckland and costs NZ$39 though there is also the option to kayak across which I did and it takes around 2 hours.
Things to take
Before your visit make sure to take all your food (contained in a sealed container) and water for the day as there are no shops on the Island and make sure you leave with all your waste. You will also need to have good shoes as the terrain is quite uneven and rocky and a sun hat and plenty of sunscreen as there is not much shelter on the island.
The most important thing is to be back for your ferry on time as there is no overnight accommodation on the Island and a private water taxi back is expensive!!
By Clare from I Live 4 Travel
HOW TO GET THERE? Fullers Ferry from Auckland City or Devonport OR you can do a 2 hour kayak trip
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 25 minute ferry ride / 2 hours kayaking
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $36 return on the ferry/
3. MOTUTAPU ISLAND (Sacred Island)
Motutapu Island- Home Bay By spoutspout (Flickr)
Rangitoto is connected to Motutapu Island by a causeway, and it’s possible to walk between the two. However, Motutapu Island is very different from its neighbour, Rangitoto Island. Due to the past years of farming, Motutapu has large areas of grassy hilly land as compared to its very rugged rocky volcanic neighbour Rangitoto.
History of Motutapu
Motutapu is one of the oldest land masses in the Hauraki Gulf. It was settled by Maori, who were living there even before Rangitoto Island emerged from the sea over 600 years ago. When Europeans claimed ownership of Motutapu Island in the 1840s, they began farming the island and set up homesteads in Home Bay and Emu Bay. The island became a popular visitor destination in the early 20th century and hosted large Victorian picnic parties of over 10,000 people! During World War 2 Motutapu Island was used as a military base.
Motutapu Restoration Trust
In 2011 Motutapu Island was declared pest-free, following a four-year pest eradication programme by the Motutapu Restoration Trust. Today it’s a scenic reserve with a network of walking tracks where you can enjoy seeing native flora, fauna and birds.
PLEASE NOTE: As at June 2021, DOC and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki announced a rāhui on Motutapu Island while authorities work to capture two elusive stoats which are a danger to native wildlife.
This means no visitors are permitted on Motutapu Island and access is restricted until the rāhui is lifted.
HOW TO GET THERE? Fullers Ferry from Auckland
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 35 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $36 return
You might also check Riverhead Ferry.
4. TIRITIRI MATANGI ISLAND
North Island Saddleback on Tiritiri Matangi Island By vil.sandi (Flickr)
Trail at Tiritiri Matangi Island By GarSham (Flickr).
FOR BIRD & NATURE LOVERS!
If you are a bird or nature lover Tiritiri Matangi Island is a must-visit place for you! The Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Incorporated have been working on an amazing successful conservation project. The island had been farmed for over 120 years and the forests had been cleared for pasture and the island was stripped of 94% of its native bush.
However, between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees. Introduced predators were eradicated and endangered birds and reptiles were successfully introduced. As you wander around the island through the native bush and coastal forests you’ll be serenaded by birdsong and may be lucky enough to spot some of the rare birds such as the flightless takahe. Titritiri Matangi is today a stunning wildlife sanctuary.
The network of walking trails will take you past some beautiful beaches and nesting boxes that are home to the little blue penguins. At the highest point on the island is the 1864 lighthouse and the lightkeepers house.
HOW TO GET THERE? Fullers Ferries from Auckland
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 75 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $82 return
5. ROTOROA ISLAND
Rotoroa Island BY 100% Pure New Zealand
ROTOROA ISLAND TRUST- wildlife sanctuary
For over one hundred years Rotoroa Island was closed to the public. It was the Salvation Army’s drug and alcohol addiction treatment centre in Auckland. In 2011 a group of local philanthropists leased the land from the Salvation Army and created the Rotoroa Island Trust. They began a programme of work to create a New Zealand wildlife sanctuary and allow public access to the island again. Takahē, pāteke (brown teal), tīeke (saddleback), pāteke ducks and North Island brown kiwi were translocated to the island. The trust created walking tracks, added public artworks, and planted more native forest and the island is now a wildlife sanctuary.
The island has four beautiful sandy beaches, some great bushwalks and easy walking trails and There are some interesting historical buildings including the jail, chapel, schoolhouse, and cemetery. There is an award-winning museum and exhibtion center at Home Bay and on the southern headland is an interesting sculpture created by Chris Booth.
Should you wish to stay longer there is a hostel style house and three private holiday homes that need to be pre booked .
HOW TO GET THERE? Fullers Ferries from Auckland
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 75 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $55 return
6. RAKINO ISLAND
RAKINO ISLAND By Ben Grogan (Flickr)
ECO FRIENDLY & OFF GRID
Rakino, behind Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands, is regarded as one of Auckland’s best-kept island secrets! This eco-friendly, off-the-grid, quiet island has about 20 permanent residents, although this increases to one or two hundred over the holiday season in the summer and about 70 holiday homes. Auckland boat owners like to spend time here and anchor in one of the beautiful bays. There is a limited public ferry service. There are no shops or electricity and this just the way the residents like it! There is, however, the world’s first solar-powered working telephone and allows local free calling to Auckland.
In 1862 Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, built his home here before moving on to Kawau Island. He leased the land to Albert Sanford of the well-known commercial fishing company Sanford Ltd. He lived here with his family for 80 years.
There is a car ferry access ramp at Home Bay and the public wharf at Sandy Bay which has a small library and an art gallery. There is plenty to see and do on the island including swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and walking. Rakino Island has been pest-free since 2002 providing some protection for native birds and wildlife.
HOW TO GET THERE? BELAIRE Ferries from Auckland or Stanley Bay
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 45 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $67 return
NB: SEALINK operate a limited service car ferry from Half Moon Bay –
7. MOTUIHE ISLAND / Te Motu-a-Ihenga
Motuihe Island By Christine Riggle (Flickr)
RECREATION RESERVE- great swimming & hikes
Motuihe Island is situated between Motutapu and Waiheke Islands. With its white sandy beaches and native bush walks is a popular day trip from Auckland. It is just a 30 to 45-minute ferry ride across the picturesque Hauraki Gulf.
The island has a very interesting history. It was settled by the Maori and then when Europeans arrived in the 1840s they started farming the island. They planted groves of olive trees and Norfolk pine trees which can still be seen today.
From 1872 and for the next 50 years Motuihe Island became a quarantine station originally for smallpox victims and then for scarlet fever. During the first World War, the island was used as a prison of war camp housing the colourful Count Felix Von Luckner and it bacame a quarantine station again dring the 1918 flu pandemic.
The island became a naval base during the Second World War and remained as a naval training base until 1963.
Today it is a recreation reserve controlled by the Department of Conservation and administered by the Motuihe Trust which has run a conservation and pest eradication programme with volunteer assistance. Motuihe Island is now a pest-free island that is home to kiwi, saddlebacks, kakariki, bellbirds, geckos, skinks and tuatara.
Please note- As at July, 2021, the wharf was closed for repair and public ferries were not operating. Access is now only available through private boats anchoring offshore, water taxis which cost about $200 or ferries which have a tender – (these are used for fortnightly volunteer days.) Contact Fullers Ferries for an update.
HOW TO GET THERE? Fullers Ferries from Auckland
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 35 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $36
8. KAWAU ISLAND / TE KAWAUTUMARO O TOI
Mansion House Kawau Island By Mark in New Zealand (Flickr)
Kawau Island has an intriguing history. it was once a mining settlement and in 1862 former New Zealand Governor, Sir George Grey, bought Kawau Island and lived in the historic homestead that you see when you arrive at Mansion House Bay. He imported zebras, antelopes, wallabies, kangaroos, kookaburras, peacocks and monkeys to Kawau Island and many species of exotic flora and fauna and planted an olive grove. Today there are still wallabies, peacocks, wekas, and many of his trees, including an olive grove and the large palms by Mansion House in existence.
About 90% of the land is privately owned and the other 10% is cared for by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is accessible to the public. The Island has a small population of about 80 permanent residents and many holiday dwellings which are busy during the summer months.
Kawau Island is very popular with local boaties and bird enthusiasts. There are many walks, large gardens and grounds, and great swimming. Popular day-trips include the Mansion House Historic Reserve and the Royal Mail Run Cruise which is the largest mail run by water in the Southern Hemisphere.
HOW TO GET THERE?
- Ferries and water taxis travel to Kawau Island daily from Sandspit Wharf near Warkworth, about one and a half hour’s drive north of Auckland.
- Auckland Sea Planes fly out to the island from the Viaduct Quarter in the CBD
9. BROWNS ISLAND / MOTUKOREA (“island of the pied oyster catcher bird”)
Browns Island By Avenue (Wikimedia)
AN EASY KAYAK TRIP to a volcano!
Motukorea ( Browns Island ) is a relatively small island about an hours kayaking from St Heliers Bay or a little longer from Okahu Bay. There is no wharf and even access for small boats is difficult, so if you want to experience having an island virtually to yourself kayaking there is the way to go!
No one currently lives on Motukorea, but it was settled by Maori over 800 years ago and there are several Maori pa sites on the island. The island was bought by Sir John Logan Campbell and William Brown whom the island was named after. Motukorea is now owned by the Auckland Council and administered by the Department of Conservation.
Motukorea is one of the best-preserved volcanoes of the 50 volcanoes in the Auckland volcanic field. The walk to the summit is more difficult than it looks, but the views from the top make it well worthwhile.
HOW TO GET THERE? Auckland Sea Kayaks from St Heliers Bay
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? An hour kayaking each way
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? $155 per person
10. GREAT BARRIER ISLAND / AOTEA
Known by the Maori name of Aotea, the incredible Great Barrier Island is only a 30 minute flight from Auckland. It’s easy to be transported to paradise for an exciting island day trip from New Zealand’s biggest city.
Great Barrier Island has a resident population of around 900 people who live largely off grid with no electricity supply, banking facilities or supermarkets. It makes for a great day trip to get a sneak peek into an innovative and unique island community!
The island is made up of breathtakingly beautiful rugged landscape with over 100km of walking tracks to explore. There are stunning white sand beaches, surfing spots, diving, fishing charters or its easy to just hire a car for the day and roadtrip and adventure all over the island.
Over 70% of the island is protected as a conservation park and the whole island is a Dark Sky Sanctuary with night skies rated ‘second to none’.
For a day trip fly to Great Barrier Island from Auckland’s North Shore or from Auckland Airport in Manukau. If you’re staying for longer than a day you can take the SeaLink vehicle ferry from downtown Auckland and arrive in the Barrier in about four and half hours
Great Barrier Island is a fantastic adventure and must surely be one of the most remote living communities you could possibly visit in a day trip from Auckland!
By Sarah Steiner from Away With The Steiners
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 30 minutes
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Costs vary – about $120 return
11. GOAT ISLAND MARINE RESERVE
Goat Island Marine Reserve By Brian MacIntyre (Flickr)
Goat Island Marine Reserve is not actually an island!
It is named after the little island, Goat Island, a nature reserve about 100 metres off the beach which protects the beach from the ocean swells and where boat landing is not allowed.
However, Goat Island Marine Reserve is an excellent day trip from Auckland. From the city, it is about an hour and a half drive. On a fine day, you will get some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities close to Auckland. Equipment is available for hire.
You can also enjoy swimming, kayaking, and exploring the rock pools or take a walk on one of the two coastal walkways leading from Goat Island Bay and passing through coastal forest with spectacular coastal views. One walkway is accessed from the western end of the car park, the other from the driveway to the marine laboratory. Glass bottom boat tours are also available to check out the marine life.
The marine reserve was established in 1975 and is now teeming with fish and other sea life. The marine reserve is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). You can visit the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre which is near the University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory.
HOW TO GET THERE? From Auckland, drive SH1 to Warkworth (about an hour) and follow the large brown Goat Island Marine Reserve signs through Matakana to Leigh and then on to Goat Island.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? About an hour and a half