The 15 Most Beautiful Islands in New Zealand

Halfmoon Bay is home to Stewart Island’s only town, Oban
Halfmoon Bay is home to Stewart Island’s only town, Oban | © LizCoughlan / Shutterstock
Photo of Thalita Alves
8 September 2020

There are hundreds of beautiful islands scattered in and around New Zealand. Some might be easier to access than others, but each one has a uniqueness and wonderful features to share. Take a glimpse at 15 offshore gems that are guaranteed to take everyone’s breath away.

Rakiura/Stewart Island

Rakiura/Stewart Island is the third-largest island in New Zealand. It lies 30km (19mi) south of the South Island and only has one town to its name: Oban, which lies on the eastern side of the island in Halfmoon Bay. Stewart Island is home to unique wildlife, stunning natural features and epic walking and hiking routes.

Waiheke Island

While Stewart Island is one of the largest islands, Waiheke Island is New Zealand’s most densely populated. This picturesque destination is also the second-largest island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and the most accessible – you can easily catch a ferry and reach Waiheke in 40 minutes. The island is a popular day trip and wedding and honeymoon destination because of its stunning vineyards and picturesque beaches.

Waiheke Island is known for its vineyards | © Dan Eady / Shutterstock

Kapiti Island

Kapiti Island is where the coast, shrubland and native forestry come together in perfect harmony. It’s 5km (3mi) outside the western shores of the lower North Island and is home to two protected conservation sites with various native birds, marine animals and critically endangered species. Its proximity to Wellington has made the island a popular tourist site – particularly for birdwatchers; however, daily visitor numbers are capped to protect the local environment.

Kapiti Island is a perfect destination for nature lovers | © TWEITH / Shutterstock

Chatham Islands

Famously the first place in the world to welcome the New Year, the Chatham Islands comprise 10 islands within a 60km (37mi) radius. The two largest islands, Chatham and Pitt, are the only ones inhabited; most of the other islands have restricted access or are completely off-limits. You can fly in from Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington to immerse yourself in a hilly showcase of shrubbery, photogenic beaches, dunes and epic lagoons.

The Chatham Islands comprise 10 islands | © Steve Todd / Shutterstock

Aotea/Great Barrier Island

Aotea/Great Barrier Island is the largest island in the Hauraki Gulf. As with Waiheke, passenger ferries departing from downtown Auckland will take you to the island. Its eastern shores feature high cliffs and awe-inspiring surf beaches, while the western side is best known for its serene, sheltered bays. Native forestry is another major asset, and you’ll find several walking tracks around the island that are worth exploring.

Aotea/Great Barrier Island offers many outdoor adventures | © Evgeny Gorodetsky / Shutterstock

Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island

Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island is home to New Zealand’s first nature reserve, established in 1896. Its importance to local conservation efforts means that access to the pest-free island is highly restricted. If you want to visit, you’ll need to get a special permit from the Department of Conservation before you’re allowed to embark on an approved commercial charter that will transport you to the island. Little Barrier lies 80km (50mi) north of Auckland and is a good place for birdwatching, diving and snorkelling.

You’ll need a special permit to visit Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island | © cloud9works / Shutterstock

Rangitoto ki te Tonga/D’Urville Island

Named after French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville, this picturesque island lies the Marlborough Sounds. Natural remoteness is a strong part of the island’s appeal. Here, you can immerse yourself in various nature-based activities, such as diving, snorkelling, cycling, walking and marine wildlife spotting.

Rangitoto ki te Tonga/D’Urville Island has lots of water sports | © Graphic55 / Shutterstock

Motu Ihupuku/Campbell Island

Motu Ihupuku/Campbell Island is part of a subantarctic Unesco World Heritage site 700km (435mi) south of the South Island. It is the main island among the Campbell Islands, which are surrounded by various rock formations and islets – the most well known are Dent Island, Folly Island and the Isle de Jeanette Marie. Campbell Island is steep, rocky and surrounded by cliffs and is also home to several endemic birds, including the Campbell Island teal and snipe, both of which are critically endangered.

Motu Ihupuku/Campbell Island is a Unesco-protected area | © Janelle Lugge / Shutterstock

Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island and its young volcano are among Auckland’s most recognisable natural landmarks. The island, which emerged from the sea just 600 years ago, is a short ferry ride from the city and a favourite spot for those wanting to go hiking and participate in water sports. Sea kayaking, birdwatching and walking up Rangitoto’s summit are some of the island’s most popular activities.

Rangitoto Island emerged 600 years ago | © Ian Rushton / Shutterstock

Poor Knights Islands

Poor Knights Islands are off the Tutukaka Coast in the North Island’s Northland region. They’re the remnants of some ancient volcanoes that have been moulded into a spectacular network of underwater caves, arches, tunnels and cliffs. Diving and snorkelling are the island’s main activities; indeed, the sea surrounding the islands has been a marine reserve since 1981, thanks to its incredible biodiversity.

A marine reserve surrounds the Poor Knights Islands | © Shay Yacobinski / Shutterstock

Enderby Island

Enderby Island is one of the Auckland Islands, a subantarctic New Zealand territory that sits 465km (290mi) south of the South Island. Just north of Auckland Island (the largest in the archipelago), it’s notable for its fauna. Enderby is a key nesting site for endemic seabird species such as the Auckland shag, teal and snipe, as well as being an excellent place to spot New Zealand sea lions, brown skua, northern giant petrels and yellow-eyed penguins.

Enderby Island is home to a variety of fauna, including sea lions | © John Carnemolla / Shutterstock

Matakana Island

Matakana Island is a long, flat island that borders the Western Bay of Plenty’s Tauranga Harbour. Even though it’s 20km (12mi) in length, the island is fairly narrow – only 3km (2mi) wide. Conservation is a significant part of Matakana Island’s operations. You’ll find hundreds of indigenous plant species in the area, and the surf side of the coastlines are known for being a prime nesting location for various native seabirds.

Matakana Island is a long barrier island | © Ventura / Shutterstock

Whakaari/White Island

Whakaari/White Island is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. It sits 48km (30mi) off the North Island’s east coast in the Bay of Plenty region and is as much a place of interest for scientists as it is a popular tourist attraction. Dramatic geothermal beauty aside, the island’s surrounding waters are another notable asset. Here, divers can marvel at the underwater steam vents and resident marine critters, while avid fishers will have plenty of opportunities to cast a line during specialised chartered boat tours.

Whakarri/White Island is popular with both scientists and travellers | © Unicus / Shutterstock

Moutohorā/Whale Island

Venture slightly beyond White Island to meet the lesser-known gem that is Moutohorā/Whale Island. It’s a remnant of an eroded volcano and home to several endangered native plants, birds, marine mammals and lizards. It is considered a protected nature reserve, and access is highly restricted. Similar to Little Barrier Island, only a small selection of approved boat operators can take you to Moutohorā.

On Moutohorā/Whale Island, there are several endangered flora and fauna | © Photo Image / Shutterstock

Matiu/Somes Island

Matiu/Somes Island, the largest island in northern Wellington Harbour, is presently a scientific and historical reserve. In the past, it has served as a military defence point, a human and animal quarantine station and an internment camp – you can still see the historic remains of its colourful past by walking around the area’s main loop track. A scheduled ferry service runs from Wellington to Matiu/Somes Island seven days a week, making this an ideal spot for an island-based day trip.

Matiu/Somes Island has served many functions over the years | © Steve Todd / Shutterstock

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