8 great islands of New Zealand

Urupukapuka Island PHOTO Tourism New Zealand Urupukapuka Island. Photo: Tourism New Zealand Urupukapuka Island PHOTO Tourism New Zealand
White Island Justin Bennett White Island. Photo: Justin Bennett White Island Justin Bennett
Stewart Island Stewart Island. Photo: Heather Whelan Stewart Island

You may not be able to get there by motorhome, but these offshore gems are definitely worth parking up for a day (or more) and exploring by foot

Great Barrier

This gem of the Auckland harbour makes for a wonderful day trip or an even better long weekend or holiday getaway. Just 90km away from the city centre, Great Barrier still feels like a world away with golden sands, natural hot pools, and thick forest and bush.

Much of the land is protected conservation area, and the whole island is a Dark Sky Sanctuary, making it the ideal spot for stargazing.

Stewart Island

Sitting at the bottom of New Zealand, Stewart Island (Rakiura) has less than 400 permanent residents. Around 85 percent of the island is designated National Park and is home to around 20,000 kiwi!

Thanks to a carefully managed pest programme, the island has an abundance of other birdlife, too, including tui, kereru (native wood pigeon), bellbirds, little blue penguins, weka, kaka, and even the long-tailed bat!

White Island

Also known as Whakaari, White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano and lies about 50km off the coast of Whakatane. Visitors can get up close to the bubbling mud pits, steaming vents, and fascinating landscape from the moment they step off the boat.

The main feature of the island is its crater, which is often full of steaming acid. Vivid hues of yellow and orange from the island’s abundant sulphur make it a wonderful spot for photography.

Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands (Wharekauri) lie 750km to the east of the South Island. There are 11 islands making up this archipelago, with around 600 residents across the two largest islands (Chatham and Pitt islands).

The Chathams have an abundance of nature reserves, walking tracks, and unique wildlife, including the rare black robin and the Chatham Island taiko. And if you’re keen on fishing and diving, the Chathams offer some of New Zealand’s best.

d’Urville Island

Sitting at the top of the South Island, among the Marlborough Sounds, d’Urville Island is our eighth-largest island. Known for its remote and rugged charm, d’Urville Island takes around 15 minutes to access by boat via the French Pass. Once there, there are plenty of walks to enjoy, including the full-day Ridgeline Circuit Track, which offers some stunning views.

Kapiti Island

This peaceful island bird sanctuary sits off the west coast of the southern North Island, about 90 minutes north of Wellington. Like many of New Zealand’s predator-free islands, Kapiti can only be accessed through an approved tour operator.

The island is home to many of New Zealand’s precious birdlife, including kiwi, kokako, ruru, and bellbirds. Kapiti Island also has a marine reserve on either side where you can snorkel, kayak, and swim.

Kawau Island

Kawau is one of the largest islands in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and definitely worth a visit. The island has a fascinating history—it was bought as a private residence by Sir George Grey in 1862.

Sir George travelled the world, bringing back exotic plants and animals to the islands. Today, the fully restored historical Mansion House where he lived is open to the public. A great way to see the island is by the Royal Mail Run Cruise, which includes the option of a barbecue lunch.

Urupukapuka Island

Sitting within the beautiful Bay of Islands, Urupukapuka Island is a paradise of beautiful beaches, fabulous scenery, and wonderful picnic spots. Travel there by water taxi or ferry from Paihia and Russell.

The island has several campsites with plenty to do, including walks and tramps, diving and snorkelling, bird and wildlife watching, kayaking, and heritage sightseeing. Be sure to put this island on the ‘to-do’ list if you’re planning a Bay of Islands adventure.

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