Destinations

5 great islands in The Hauraki Gulf

We’ve found some gorgeous flora and fauna within cooee of Auckland!

With the help of Associate Editor Sebastian van der Zwan, our man when it comes to New Zealand’s natural beauty, Travel Editor Sarah-Kate Lynch has covered off some pearler islands in the sun.

1. Tiritiri Matangi

The northernmost of our selection, lying east of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, this sanctuary stocked with avian gems positively reverberates with birdsong. You’re unlikely to see kiwi (or the recently reintroduced tuatara), but take a 360 Discovery guided tour for your best chance at spotting a kokako or a korora (blue penguin) in its burrow. It’s a joy to watch the tui and hihi (stitchbirds) do battle over the many nectar feeders, but perhaps the most magical sight is the many takahe stalking around the historic lighthouse. These birds were thought extinct until 1948 and now they’ll nick your sandwich if you’re not careful!

2. Rangitoto

Closer to Auckland City, Rangitoto is the most recent of Auckland’s 50-plus volcanoes to erupt and is still covered in rocky lava flows from 550 years ago, lending the landscape an unsettling lunar quality. However, the jagged scoria is slowly but surely being colonised by pohutukawa, kowhai and cute little kidney ferns, which make for some rather pretty bush walks. An hour-long climb to the crater is a must-do for stunning views of the city and gulf. Be sure to bring a torch to explore the lava caves about two-thirds of the way up and if you’re keen, you can cross the causeway for an unspoiled walk on Motutapu Island right next door. If you’re even keener, kayak to Rangitoto – you can do a guided trip from Fergs Kayaks at Okahu Bay.

Stunning Rotoroa was recently opened to the public. Enjoy your history lesson, then hit the beach!

3. Motuihe

Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland’s CBD, between Motutapu and its easterly neighbour Waiheke, this small island was once a quarantine station and prisoner-of-war camp. But now it’s the beautiful white-sand beaches, bird-filled bush walks and lovely campsite that draw modest crowds to Motuihe. You can spot dozens of tieke (saddlebacks) and kakariki (red-crowned parakeets) as you wander through native forest to Calypso Bay (main pic), a deserted stretch of sand where you can cool wine in the waves and enjoy an idyllic picnic.

4. Waiheke

Waiheke managed to pip some far more swanky options this year to be named fourth-best island in the world, according to Condé Nast Traveler magazine. We know Jeremy Clarkson, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus love it, but so do we. Try the Oyster Inn to feast on their line-caught fish and triple-cooked chips or head for Te Motu winery and stop at The Shed for a swifty. Another foodie fave is the long Sunday lunch at Poderi Crisci in a hidden valley 35 minutes’ drive from the ferry terminal. This absolutely delightful set menu, leisurely devoured amid the dripping vines, is a secret treasure.

From go to whoa, there’s plenty happening at Onetangi Beach on world-famous Waiheke

5. Rotoroa

To the east of Waiheke and a one-hour ferry trip from the CBD, this stunning island has only recently been opened to the public after 100 years as a Salvation Army rehabilitation centre. You can still visit the old chapel, the jailhouse and the schoolhouse as well as a museum, so it has historical heft, but there’s also a lot that’s new –like the 450,000 native trees that have been planted. You can swim at one of the island’s four sandy beaches and if you bring your snarlers, throw them on one of the free barbecues. The island’s also home to a stunning Chris Booth sculpture and, as of last month, a new kiwi, hatched at Auckland Zoo. Check out Sealink and Fullers for ferry times to all the islands. Happy summer!

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