Visit some of Auckland’s finest jewels, nestled in the Gulf.
The Hauraki Gulf, protected from the Pacific Ocean by Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier Island to the north, and by the Coromandel Peninsula to the east, is home to a haven of beach-studded islands renowned for stunning native environments and outdoor adventure.
Aotea Track, Great Barrier Island
Remote Great Barrier is ninety kilometres northeast of Auckland. Fly there in 30 minutes from Auckland airport (Great Barrier Airlines, $198-$248 return), or take the Sealink car/passenger ferry ($90 - $140 return but check for specials). Departs Brigham Street, Wynyard Wharf.
Popular Waiheke is serviced by fast ferry options with multiple daily departures, just 35 minutes from Auckland’s downtown ferry terminal on Quay St. View ticket prices and package options on www.fullers.co.nz.
Once you’ve arrived, take advantage of the new Fuller’s Explorer Hop on Hop off bus. See the island in a whole new way, from the top deck of this double decker beauty. Hop on and off as much as you like at any of its stops which include vineyards, beaches and restaurants. Or if you prefer, stay on board and enjoy a 1½ hour scenic tour of the island. This new service is available with or without a return ferry ticket and departs from each location approximately every 30 minutes throughout the day.
Fullers Explorer Bus
Tiritiri Matangi Island, 30km north of Auckland, is an open nature reserve managed by the Department of Conservation. The island is predator free, and home to New Zealand native species such as rare kiwi and takahe. Fullers 360 runs a ferry service to Tiritiri Matangi (Wed – Sun, departing 9am, arrives back 4.50pm) from Pier 4, Quay St.
Water taxis shuttle to Kawau Island from Sandspit near Warkworth, or you can join the mail cruise, delivering mail and goods while learning about the island during an informative three-hour cruise.
The distinctive, almost symmetrical cone of Rangitoto Island is an Auckland icon. At a mere 600 years old, it’s the youngest volcano in the region, and its curious basalt lava landscape supports the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. An hour-long walk to the summit is rewarded with 360-degree views over the gulf, or take Fullers’ Volcanic Explorer 4WD road train.
Managed by the Department of Conservation, Tiritiri Matangi is one of two open wildlife sanctuaries in New Zealand. Wander freely among a profusion of birds, many rare or endangered. If you take the 360 Discovery trip, it’s well worth paying $10 extra for a guided walk with a knowledgeable volunteer.
Great Barrier is a vast wilderness of 285 square kilometres with a population of only 850 people, most of the island is covered in bush. It boasts bushwalks, swimming, surfing, kayaking, fishing, diving, biking, horse-riding and abseiling. There are natural hot springs and dramatic canyon walks. A climb to the top of Mt Hobson yields fabulous views over the gulf to Coromandel and Auckland. The waters around the island are visited by whales, turtles and manta rays. There’s a wide range of accommodation and you can camp in designated campsites.
Waiheke Island loves walkers and cyclists (bikes go free on the ferry, or hire one at Matiatia wharf). Main village Oneroa is a short bus ride from the wharf at Matiatia. There are lovely, accessible beaches at Oneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi.
Kaitoke Hot Springs, Great Barrier Island
Kawau Island’s picturesque Mansion House was the home of New Zealand’s first governor, Sir George Grey, who introduced many exotic plants and animals. The island still has some wild Australian creatures such as kookaburras, possums and wallabies. The Kawau Island Historic Reserve protects Mansion House, its gardens and surrounds, as well as remnants of the historic copper industry.
In February 2011 Rotoroa Island opened to the public for the first time in over 100 years. For decades the island was a Salvation Army drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, so along with enjoying beaches and bush walks, visitors can explore the heart of the old treatment centre’s community, including the jail, chapel, schoolhouse and cemetery, and a state-of-the-art exhibition centre. Fullers 360 runs 75 minute ferry services to Rotoroa Island multiple times daily.
FOOD & DRINK
Waiheke is a celebrated wine region. Vineyards produce sought-after vintages, and cafés and restaurants offer fine menus and wine lists. Buses and taxis serve the island and scenic tours may include wine, olive oil and art trails.
Dining Waiheke Island