Rakiura/Stewart Island is the third largest island in New Zealand. It lies 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) south of the South Island and only has one town to its name: Oban, which is located on the eastern side of the island in Halfmoon Bay. Visitors are drawn to Stewart Island because of its unique wildlife, stunning natural features and epic walking and hiking routes.
While Stewart Island is one of the largest, Waiheke Island is New Zealand’s most densely populated. This picturesque island is also the second largest in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and the most accessible – Aucklanders and Auckland visitors alike can easily catch a ferry and reach Waiheke in a span of 40 minutes. The island is a popular day trip, wedding and honeymoon destination because of its stunning vineyards and picturesque beaches.
Kapiti Island is where the coast, shrubland and native forestry come together in perfect cohesion. The island, located three kilometres (1.9 miles) outside the western shores of the lower North Island, 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 – though daily visitor numbers are capped to protect the local environment.
Famously the first place in the world to welcome the New Year, the Chatham Islands is an archipelago that comprises 10 islands within a 40-kilometre (25-mile) radius. The two largest, Chatham and Pitt Islands, are the only ones that are inhabited; most of the other islands have restricted access or are completely off-limits. Visitors to the Chathams usually fly from Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington and get to immerse themselves in a hilly showcase of shrubbery, photogenic beaches, sand dunes and epic lagoons.
Aotea/Great Barrier Island is the largest island in the Hauraki Gulf and the sixth largest in New Zealand. As with Waiheke, passenger ferries departing from downtown Auckland will take you to the island. The eastern shores of Great Barrier Island feature high cliffs and awe-inspiring surf beaches, while the western side is best known for its serene, sheltered bays. Native forestry is another prominent asset and there are several walking tracks around the island that are worth exploring.
Little Barrier Island is home to the first nature reserve to be established in New Zealand in 1896. Its importance to local conservation efforts means that access to the pest-free island is highly restricted – visitors need to get a special permit from the Department of Conservation before they’re allowed to embark on an approved commercial charter that will transport them to the island. Little Barrier is situated 80 kilometres (49.7 miles) north of Auckland city and is a good place for bird watching, diving and snorkelling.
Named after French explorer Jules Durmont d’Urville, this picturesque island in the Marlborough Sounds is the country’s eighth largest. Natural remoteness is a strong part of D’Urville Island’s appeal. Visitors can immerse themselves in a number of nature-based activities like diving, snorkelling, cycling, walking and marine wildlife spotting.
Campbell Island is part of a sub-Antarctic UNESCO World Heritage site that lies 700 kilometres (435 miles) south of the South Island. It is the main island among the Campbell Islands group and there are various rock formations and islets all around it – the most famous of which includes Dent Island, Folly Island and the Isle de Jeanette Marie. Campbell Island is steep, rocky and surrounded by cliffs; the island is also home to several endemic birds that are unique to this part of the world, including the Campbell Island teal and Campbell Island snipe, both of which were critically endangered.
Rangitoto Island and its young volcano are among Auckland’s most recognisable natural landmarks. The island, which once again is just a short ferry ride from the city, emerged from the sea just 600 years ago and is a favourite spot for locals and visitors wanting to get their hiking and water adventure fix. Sea kayaking, bird watching and walking up Rangitoto’s summit are some of the island’s most popular must-dos.
Poor Knights Islands are located on the Tutukaka Coast in the North Island’s Northland region. The islands are 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 main activities Poor Knights Island is renowned for; in fact, the sea surrounding the islands are considered a marine reserve since 1981, thanks to its incredible biodiversity.
Enderby Island is part of the Auckland Islands archipelago, a sub-antarctic New Zealand territory that sits 465 kilometres (290 miles) south of the South Island. The island, which is located just north of Auckland Island (the largest in the archipelago) is notable for its fauna: Enderby is a key nesting site for endemic seabird species like the Auckland shag, Auckland teal and Auckland snipe as well as being a key place to spot New Zealand sea lions, brown skua, northern giant petrels and yellow-eyed penguins.
Matakana Island is a long, flat island that borders the Western Bay of Plenty’s Tauranga Harbour. Even though it is 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) in length the island is fairly narrow – in fact, it is approximately three kilometres (1.9 miles) wide. Conservation is a major part of Matakana Island’s operations: you will 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 sea birds.
Whakaari/White Island is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. The island sits 48 kilometres (30 miles) 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 key tourist attraction. Dramatic geothermal beauty aside, the island’s surrounding waters are another notable asset: divers will be able to 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.
Venture slightly beyond White Island to meet the lesser-known gem that is Moutohora/Whale Island. The island, which is a remnant of an eroded volcano, is 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 visitors to Moutohora.
The largest of the three islands on the Wellington Harbour, Matiu/Somes Island is presently a scientific and historic reserve. In the past, the island 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.