The Hauraki Gulf Islands Worth Adding to the Bucket List
Island paradises await just a quick ferry ride from Auckland, but with so many to choose from, which islands in Auckland should you visit? This guide to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf will give you highlights of each island, how to get there and what makes them different from the other islands in the Hauraki Gulf. There are islands for bird-watching, for camping, for historical sites, for wine-tasting and so much more! Whether you’re a local that wants to discover more of what Auckland has to offer, or a traveller looking to have an alternative experience in Auckland, visit the islands of Auckland is an absolute must that not enough people take advantage of (so get in while it’s quiet)!
If you’re looking for more ways to experience the natural attractions of Auckland, take a look at the Top 10 Natural Attractions in Auckland.
About the Hauraki Gulf
What is this “Hauraki Gulf”? Well, it’s home to New Zealand’s first national park of the sea, the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, which is peppered with protected islands and marine reserves. The Hauraki Gulf is found on the east side of Auckland city and covers one million hectares of sheltered waters and beautiful islands.
The largest islands and the most-populated are Waiheke Island and Great Barrier Island, while the rest of the islands are small uninhabited islands which are wildlife havens. Most of the islands are just a ferry-ride away, while a limited few can be accessed only by private boat or kayak.
For more information on the Hauraki Gulf, head over to our Auckland Hauraki Gulf – Guide for Backpackers.
Ever-seen from the shores of Auckland, Rangitoto Island and its distinctive volcanic shape begs to be explored. It’s one of the most accessible islands from Auckland city with ferry services running daily. The 600-year-old volcano is Auckland’s youngest and the landscape shows it as soon as you step onto the island with its rugged black volcanic rock. That’s not the only landscape you’ll experience, with the island holding the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. On top of that, there are lava caves to explore and lava fields to cross via boardwalk on this truly unique Auckland island experience. Find out more about visiting Rangitoto in our Guide to Rangitoto Island and Motutapu Island.
Things to Do on Rangitoto Island
- Walk the 1-hour Summit Track to get sensational views of the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland city skyline.
- Take a 4WD tractor tour to the summit to learn more about the island from your guide.
- Do some bird watching – Rangitoto is a pest-free island, so the abundance of native birds is a nature lover’s dream.
- Discover the history of the islands by seeing historic baches and the observation post used during World War 2 at the summit.
- Explore more walking tracks by picking up a map from the Downtown Ferry Building or on the DOC website.
How to Get to Rangitoto Island
Ferries operate from the Auckland Downtown Ferry Building daily.
Motutapu Island is attached to Rangitoto Island via a causeway, yet the island is wildly different! Motutapu Island is mainly pasture land but its coasts are dotted with beaches making for some awesome swimming and picnicking spots. You will find pockets of native forest, due to the restoration and conservation work taking place on the island regularly, and kiwi and takahe birds have been reintroduced to the pest-free island so you might just be lucky to see one.
Things to Do on Motutapu Island
- Explore World War 2 bunkers, tunnels and gun emplacements.
- Take in the amazing views of the surrounding islands and Auckland city from the island’s walking trails, such as the 40-minute Home Bay to Northern Junction walk.
- Go swimming or have a picnic at one of the beaches.
- Camp at the Department of Conservation campsite at Home Bay.
How to Get to Motutapu Island
Either walk to Motutapu Island from Rangitoto Island using the causeway on the east side of Rangitoto or take the ferry service from the Downtown Ferry Building to Motutapu’s Home Bay. Ferries run two to three times a month on a scheduled service.
Experience one of the less-visited islands of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, Motuihe Island. The island boasts some of the best sandy beaches out of all the islands close to Auckland city, as well as some spectacular walks. The island also holds significant early settler and Maori heritage sites. What’s more, Motuihe is another pest-free island so keep an eye out for birds!
Things to Do on Motuihe Island
- Walk from Motuihe Wharf to Pa Point (30 minutes) for excellent views along the coast.
- Look out for birds like kiwi, kakariki, saddleback and countless others.
- Enjoy the solitude of Motuihe’s beaches. You’ll want to pack some swimwear!
- Explore the rock pools at low tide.
- Camp at the Department of Conservation campsite at Wharf Bay.
How to Get to Motuihe Island
Passenger ferries run from the Auckland Downtown Ferry Building one to two times a month on a schedule. Otherwise, charters and water taxis can be booked.
The most populated island of the Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke Island has something for everyone. There are around 26 vineyards, a handful of art galleries and sculptures, countless walks, sandy beaches and plenty of adventure activities. You’ll find that Waiheke feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Auckland city, as well as offering a completely different vibe to the other Auckland Hauraki Gulf islands. See our whole guide at Waiheke Island – Guide for Backpackers.
Things to Do on Waiheke Island
- Taste the local wine at cellar doors throughout the island. Find out more in our 21 Vineyards & Wineries on Waiheke Island.
- Choose from a whole catalogue of amazing walks from coastal walks to forest reserve walks. Check out 7 Wonderful Walks on Waiheke Island for our top picks!
- Do something epic like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, ziplining, clay pigeon shooting and more things to do on Waiheke Island!
- Get your history fix by checking out the World War Two fort at Stony Batter.
- Stay in amazing accommodation from luxury lodges to scenic campsites.
How to Get to Waiheke Island
Ferries run several times a day from the Auckland Downtown Ferry Building.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
One of the best places to see native birdlife in Auckland (and the whole of New Zealand for that matter) is the island jewel of Tiritiri Matangi. As you walk the island’s tracks kitted with bird feeding stations and birdbaths, your chances of encountering New Zealand’s native and most endangered species are extremely high. What was once a barren land of grassy fields has now been restored to about 60% of forest covering the island after a quarter of a million trees have been planted by the local community.
Things to Do on Tiritiri Matangi Island
- Join a guided walk where your guides will take you to the best bird-watching spots and tell you more about the fascinating creatures you see.
- Choose from a great selection of walks, from the 30-minute Wattle Track through some of the best forest for bird-watching to the 1-hour Kawerau Track through pohutukawa forest to the visitor centre.
- See New Zealand’s oldest working lighthouse at the visitor centre.
- Go to Hobbs Beach for a swim, picnic or to check out the little blue penguin nesting boxes.
- Stay overnight at the Department of Conservation bunkhouse.
How to Get to Tiritiri Matangi Island
Ferries run every Wednesday to Sunday and most public holidays from the Auckland Downtown Ferry Building and the Gulf Harbour.
Browns Island (Motukorea)
Browns Island is a popular one with the locals, being only a 30-minute kayaking trip from Auckland’s eastern suburbs. Those willing to hire a kayak and put in the effort to go on this little excursion will be rewarded with a secluded island full of beaches, historic sites and a volcanic cone.
Things to Do on Browns Island
- See the historic remains of stone-walled gardens from early European settlers at the southeast valley of the volcanic cone.
- Look out for birds like oystercatchers and the rare New Zealand dotterel.
- Swim and relax on one of the sandy beaches. Walk to the summit of Browns Island via Crater Bay.
How to Get to Browns Island
Hire or use your own kayak to paddle to Browns Island from one of Auckland’s eastern beaches. For more information, see our 10 Islands to Kayak to From Auckland.
Great Barrier Island (Aotea)
Auckland’s largest and most isolated island might take a while to get to be the untouched wilderness of the island makes it all the more worth it. While the island is populated, much of the island is covered in forest and mountains, harbouring wildlife that can only be found on Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier Island. If you’re into nature, adventure and amazing scenery, then this the island in Auckland for you! For more information on visiting the island, see Great Barrier Island – Guide for Backpackers.
Things to Do on Great Barrier Island
- Do one of the many walking tracks around the island, including the multi-day Aotea Track. See 12 Must-Do Hikes on Great Barrier Island.
- Swim or surf on one of the beaches, a favourite being Medlands Beach.
- Discover the local wildlife through forest walks and snorkelling.
- Join a fishing trip or kayak in the bays.
- Have a soak in the natural Kaitoke Hot Springs.
How to Get to Great Barrier Island
Great Barrier Island can be accessed by plane from Auckland Airport or the North Shore Airfield, and by car and passenger ferry which runs three to five times a week depending on the season from Wynyard Wharf in Auckland city.
History and beautiful coastal scenery combine at Rotoroa Island. The island was once owned by the Salvation Army throughout the 1900s and was New Zealand’s longest-running addiction treatment centres. Various buildings around the island can be visited to learn more about the island’s past. Otherwise, the island is great for walks, fishing and sandy beaches.
Things to Do on Rotoroa Island
- Learn about the history of the island in the exhibition centre and museum.
- Explore the old chapel, jailhouse and school.
- Walk to the cemetery and take int he amazing views of the surrounding Hauraki Gulf.
- Relax on one of the sandy beaches.
- Make use of one of the islands’ free barbecues.
- The Home Bay wharf is a great fishing spot so try your luck.
How to Get to Rotoroa Island
Ferry services run from the Auckland Downtown Ferry Building every Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday.
One of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf, Kawau Island is a popular holiday destination for locals thanks to its sheltered bays, crystal-clear waters and awesome fishing spots. The island also has a fascinating history, as it was home to a controversial politician, George Grey, who built a mansion and gardens that can be explored today. Otherwise, the island has picturesque walks and beautiful beaches to enjoy.
Things to Do on Kawau Island
- Visit George Grey’s mansion and see the fascinating artefacts.
- Explore the subtropical garden with native and exotic wildlife to be seen.
- Walk the Coppermine Track to an old copper mine or the Redwoods Track to School House Bay where you’re likely to see native birds in the forest.
- Join a cruise to explore the bays and look out for dolphins.
How to Get to Kawau Island
Cruises and season ferries operate from Sandspit Wharf in Warkworth, North Auckland.
Another amazing and secluded island to explore in the Auckland Hauraki Gulf is Motuora Island. Access is only via kayak, private boat or charter so you will not find too many people here. Enjoy walks through the regenerating forest and relax on one of the island’s pristine sandy beaches.
Things to Do on Motuora Island
- Go for a walk on one of the many tracks, like the 2-hour Northern Loop Track or the 1-hour return Still Bay Track.
- Look out for native birds, including the kiwi which is found on the island due to conservation projects where newly-hatched kiwi are introduced onto this pest-free island.
- Swim and unwind on the gorgeous sandy beaches.
- Stay at the Department of Conservation campsite or the five-bed bach.
How to Get to Motuora Island
Motuora Island is accessible by private boat or kayak. Take a look at 10 Islands to Kayak to From Auckland to see how to kayak to the island.