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Discover 10 of the Best Islands in Auckland – Welcome to the Hauraki Gulf

There are so many beautiful islands in Auckland. Famous for their pristine beaches, scenic hiking trails, snorkelling opportunities and the chance to see some of New Zealand’s native wildlife, the majority are easily accessible from Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD).

Aside from taking a day trip out to these islands, many of them offer the opportunity to stay overnight and escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Whether you’re planning a day trip, a weekend getaway or an extended vacation, we suggest using the following guide to organise your itinerary.

This post first appeared on Exploring Auckland.

A couple standing on the rocks while looking at her phone.
Rangitoto Island lava fields. Photo credit: Todd Eyre

Plan Your Visit to Each of the Islands in Auckland

Welcome to the Hauraki Gulf

Hauraki Gulf covers an area of over a million hectares. It is famous for its sparkling clear waters and emerald isles, making the region a real highlight on any visit to Auckland.

The majority of the gulf is located within Hauraki Gulf Marine Park which is New Zealand’s largest marine reserve. Although this part of New Zealand is popular for its whale and dolphins cruises, the gulf also offers a variety of scenic islands to visit.

All but one of the islands listed are free of charge to visitors. Rotoroa Island is the one exception to this as they ask for a small contribution to help with the restoration of the island.

Depending on which island you choose to visit, there are various transport options but most are easily accessible from downtown Auckland.

Many of the larger islands can be visited by ferry, private boat or seaplane, whilst some of the smaller islands are only accessible by a private chartered boat or water taxi. If the island is close enough to the mainland, it is also possible to kayak out.

This article lists 10 of the best islands in Auckland and what they offer to visitors.

Each island on this list is unique, but all of them are worth a visit at some stage whilst you’re in the City of Sails.

The Best Islands in Auckland – Plan Your Adventure

1. Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island is probably one of the most iconic islands in Auckland due to its distinct shape and visible nature. It is also a magnet for those wanting a memorable hike in the region.

This volcanic island is located around 8km northeast of Auckland, where it rises 260m over the Hauraki Gulf. It’s estimated that Rangitoto erupted from the sea around 600 years ago making it the youngest island in the gulf. It is also the largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field, although the walk up to the summit only takes around an hour.

We suggest giving yourself a full day on Rangitoto – this allows for plenty of time to explore the rest of the island.

Things to do on Rangitoto Island
  • Go on a Sea kayaking tour (to get to the island)
  • Hike the Rangitoto Summit Trek
  • Visit the Lava Caves 
  • Wander through the worlds largest pōhutukawa forest
  • Visit Mackenzie Bay
  • See Beacon Lighthouse
  • Swim in the saltwater swimming pool
  • Take the Coastal Track
  • Visit the old shipwreck site
  • Walk along the mangrove boardwalk.
How to Get to Rangitoto Island

There is a regular ferry service that runs daily from downtown Auckland or Devonport Wharf. The journey takes roughly around 25 minutes.

Rangitoto is also connected to Motutapu Island by a causeway, so you can walk between the two islands.

Can I stay overnight on Rangitoto Island?

Camping isn’t available on Rangitoto Island but there are two baches to stay at – Bach 78 and Bach 114. Both are located close to Islington Bay and have solar power and chemical toilets.

A man sitting on the ballutrade of a wooden bridge while his partner holds him.
Exploring Rangitoto Island. Photo credit: Todd Eyre

2. Motutapu Island

Motutapu Island is one of the oldest islands in the Hauraki Gulf at an impressive age of 178 million years. Isn’t that incredible!

The Māori word ‘Motutapu’ actually translates to ‘sacred island’ and once you see its lush greenery and wildlife, it’s not hard to see why.

This island has a long history – it has been home to Māori settlements, hosted Victorian picnics and even contained a WWII military base which is pretty impressive.

After undertaking the world’s largest island pest eradication programme, Motutapu is also predator-free which makes it one of the best islands in Auckland for wildlife.

It’s a great place to find native birds including the tīeke (saddleback) and the takahē – two incredibly rare birds in New Zealand.

Things to do on Motutapu Island
  • Swim at Mullet Beach
  • Visit the WWII military sites
  • Walk the wetland track
  • Spend a day volunteering with the Motutapu Restoration Trust 
  • Relax at Waikalabubu Bay
  • Walk to Rangitoto Island
  • Camp overnight at Home Bay Wharf
  • Visit the Reid Family Homestead
  • Hike the Motutapu Loop Track
  • Wander to Islington Bay.
How to Get to Motutapu Island

There is a ferry service that runs from the Downtown Auckland ferry terminal – this journey takes about 35 minutes.

If you’re looking for more flexibility the ferry service to Rangitoto Island is often more regular. You can catch the ferry there and walk across to Motutapu Island by using the causeway.

Can I stay overnight on Motutapu Island?

It is possible to camp in a tent on Motutapu Island, although your site must be pre-booked in advance.

The campsite is located at the scenic Home Bay and is run by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

The campsite is divided into five different areas and can accommodate 38 tents in total. There is no power supply or showers, and fires/barbecues are not allowed so it is best suited to a night or two at most.

Tourists walking along the grassy hills of Motutapu.
The Motutapu Island Loop Walk. Photo credit: Todd Eyre

3. Motuihe Island

Motuihe Island is one of the lesser-visited islands in the gulf, but it boasts some of the most beautiful beaches, making it a top pick on your Auckland island itinerary.

The island has a very interesting history; it was originally settled by Māori people before it was then farmed by Europeans. The island was even used as a human quarantine station for smallpox victims in 1872 and then for scarlet fever in 1874.

In 1914 the Motuihe Island then became a WWI prisoner of war camp before returning to a quarantine station – this time for the 1918 flu pandemic.

Finally, the island became a naval training base to prepare for WWII, until 1963 when it was relocated.

Today, it is one of the best islands in Auckland to visit if you are a fan of beautiful beaches.

Things to do on Motuihe Island
  • Camp overnight on the headland
  • Explore the rock pools during low tide
  • Spend a day volunteering with the Motuihe Project
  • Walk the Headland Heritage Track
  • Visit Calypso Bay
  • Look out for wildlife including tuatara, geckos, kiwis and endangered native birds
  • Take your swimming gear and head out for a swim
  • Relax on Motuihe Island’s beautiful sandy beaches.
How to Get to Motuihe Island

Ferries run from the Auckland Downtown Ferry Building, but they are very irregular as they only run one to two times a month.

You can choose to book a water taxi instead, or if you are an experienced kayaker there are tours that will take you out there. However, it can take over 2 hours to get there by kayak, so you need to have a lot of strength and stamina.

Can I stay overnight on Motuihe Island?

It is possible to stay overnight at the Motuihe Island campsite.

The campsite is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is divided into 5 zones. The site can accommodate 48 tents and bookings need to be made in advance.

There is no power supply located at the campsite or showers, and fires/barbecues are not allowed. This makes for a fairly rustic campsite but it sure is stunning.

Two bodies of water nearly meeting at the white, opposing beaches of Motuihe Island.
Stunning Motuihe Island. Photo credit: Motuihe Project

4. Browns Island (Motukorea)

Motukorea is Auckland’s most intact volcano and because of this, it has a very distinct shape.

At a height of 65m above sea level, once you climb to the top you will be rewarded with beautiful views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.

The Island is also known as Browns Island after William Brown who bought the island in 1840.

Located just 11km from Auckland, Browns Island now offers the opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

One of the most interesting things about this island is the Māori history. They settled there centuries ago and the remains of their pā settlements can still be seen today.

Things to do on Browns Island
  • Climb up the volcano
  • Visit the shipwreck
  • Go for a swim at Crater Bay
  • Search for fossils along the coastline
  • Hike the circumference of the island
  • Visit the remains of the Māori pā settlements.
How to Get to Browns Island

There are no public ferries to Browns Island. This means it is only accessible by private boat or charter.

You can also choose to kayak over to the island – many tour companies offer this as a full day trip (or enjoy a sunset paddle, if you prefer).

Can I stay overnight on Browns Island?

There are no campsites or accommodation options located on Browns Island. It is suitable for day trips only.

Two couple walking along the untrimmed grass of Browns Island.
Browns Island at sunset, heading back towards the beach.

5. Waiheke Island

Waiheke is one of the most popular islands in Auckland. Not only is it the second-largest Island in Hauraki Gulf and the most populated, but it offers so much to visitors.

The island was discovered around 1,000 years ago by the Māori. It was given the name ‘Waiheke’ which translates to ‘cascading waters’.

In a nod to the island’s past, there are around 50 pā settlements located around the island, and they are a must-visit during your trip.

… and what a trip you’ll have!

A trip to Waiheke Island is considered one of the best things to do in Auckland, thanks to its pristine beaches, wine tasting, adventure activities and tasty cuisine. It is also a world-class spot for weddings and honeymoons.

It really isn’t surprising to see that this island is a local favourite.

At an impressive size of 92 km² (36 square miles), you won’t run out of things to do on Waiheke.

Things to do on Waiheke Island
  • Go wine tasting at one of many high-quality vineyards
  • Walk along the Stony Batter Walkway
  • Relax at Oneroa Beach
  • Zip line through the trees
  • Try your hand at archery
  • Sunbathe at Palm Beach
  • Go on a Segway tour
  • Go horseback riding
  • Kayak around the islands’ bays
  • Enjoy a visit to a fabulous restaurant or cafe
  • Take a dip at Onetangi Beach.
How to Get to Waiheke Island

Waiheke is the most accessible island in the Hauraki Gulf making transport over a breeze.

A public ferry service runs from Auckland’s CBD roughly every hour, with the journey taking about 40 minutes.

There is also a car ferry to the island that runs from Half Moon Bay in East Auckland. That leaves roughly every hour also.

Or, if you don’t like the sound of a ferry, you can also choose to take a plane or helicopter to the island – you’ll be sure to arrive in style.

Learn more about how to get to Waiheke in preparation for your visit.

Can I stay overnight on Waiheke Island?

There are endless accommodation options on Waiheke Island, making it perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Whether you are splashing the cash or travelling on a backpackers budget, you will be spoilt for choice.

Luxury cottages and beachfront apartments by the coast are popular with holiday goers, but there are a lot of hostels too.

If you are travelling on even more of a tight budget there are also various campsites you can stay at. Poukaraka Flats Campground is the most popular campsite and needs to be booked in advance.

Backpackers buying ice cream in Island Gelato Company of Waiheke Island.
Enjoy a treat on Waiheke Island.

6. Motuora Island

Motuora is one of the best islands in Auckland to visit if you are looking for an unspoilt paradise.

It was used for farming during most of the 20th century, which meant most of the native forest was cleared.

Today, however, the island is uninhabited. It was bought by the government in 1965 to be restored and is now proudly predator-free.

In recent times, the island has been used to establish breeding colonies of rare birds. It functions as a ‘kiwi creche’ where kiwi chicks are brought to grow with no dangers, before being transferred back to the mainland.

Things to do on Motuora Island
  • Look out for rare birds including kiwi
  • See a early European settlement
  • Volunteer on the Island
  • Visit a historic Māori site
  • Kayak around the bays of the island
  • Swim in the island’s clear waters
  • Relax on a beautiful beach
How to Get to Motuora Island

There are no public ferries to Motuora Island so access is by private boat or water taxi only.

You can also choose to kayak to the Island if you are a strong paddler.

Can I stay overnight on Motuora Island?

You can either camp overnight on Motuora Island or if you’re lucky, you can book the island’s only holiday cottage in advance.

The Motuora Island campsite is run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and can accommodate 20 tents. If you want to stay here, then bookings must be made in advance.

There is no power supply located at the campsite and fires are not allowed.

Boats anchored near the shores and camping tents rigged on the grassy plains of Motuora Campsite.
Set up camp on Motuora Island. Photo credit: DOC

7. Tiritiri Matangi Island

If you are a wildlife lover then Tiritiri Matangi is one of the best islands in Auckland to visit – in fact, it is the best option for you. The island is a protected haven and wildlife sanctuary for many of New Zealand’s native and endangered bird species including the takahē, North Island kōkako and the kiwi.

Due to its emphasis on nature and conservation, only 32,000 people are allowed to visit each year.

However, the island also hosts volunteers to help with the management of Tiritiri Matangi. Getting involved is a great way to explore and learn about the Island’s history.

Things to do on Tiritiri Matangi Island
  • Visit the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand
  • Walk along the Wattle Track
  • See the rock pools at low tide
  • Look out for rare birds
  • Walk along the Hobbs Beach Track
  • Visit the small museum
  • Explore the native forest
  • Go on a guided walk of the island (which is surprisingly affordable and booked with your ferry ticket)
  • Hike the 3-hour loop track of Tiritiri Matangi
  • Snorkel near Northeast Bay.
How to Get to Tiritiri Matangi Island

The ferry to Tiritiri Matangi Island runs from downtown Auckland and takes around 75 minutes.

You can also get a ferry from Gulf Harbour to the island which will shorten your journey to just 20 minutes.

Can I stay overnight on Tiritiri Matangi Island?

The only accommodation available on Tiritiri Matagi Island is the DOC’s bunkhouse.

With hot showers, drinking water and toilets, beds must be booked in advance (because, as you can imagine, this site gets pretty busy).

UPDATE: At the time of writing, overnight stays were not permitted due to COVID restrictions. Please check if they have restarted before planning your visit.

The black Kōkako bird with it yellow tag on its left leg while standing on a branch.
Our native kōkako is just one of many birds that call Tiritiri Matangi home. Photo credit: David Cook

8. Rotoroa Island

Rotoroa Island is one of the most beautiful islands in Auckland – it offers so much for nature-loving tourists.

It has an interesting history as the Island was bought by the Salvation Army in 1908 to expand its alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility. This facility was closed down in 2005, following which, it was bought by a couple who established the Rotoroa Island Trust.

The trust worked hard to restore and redevelop the island, and in 2011 Rotoroa opened to the public for the first time in over 100 years.

Today, you can wander along the island’s many tracks, relax on the beautiful beaches and visit the heritage buildings of Rotoroa, among many other things.

It is also a fantastic place for bird watching and is home to many kiwi (25 North Island brown kiwi to be exact).

In fact, it’s possible to join the team at Rotoroa Island as they release kiwi back into the wild there – what a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Things to do on Rotoroa Island
  • Volunteer and help with the island’s restoration
  • Go on a guided nature walk
  • Hike the Southern Loop Track
  • Take your binoculars and go bird watching
  • Visit the Exhibition Centre and Museum
  • Go snorkelling around the bays
  • Explore the island’s heritage buildings including the jail, schoolhouse and butchery
  • Walk the North Tower Loop Track
  • Swim at one of many beautiful beaches
  • Go fishing
  • Marvel at a kiwi release.
How to Get to Rotoroa Island

Public ferries run from downtown Auckland and the Coromandel to Rotoroa Island.

A contribution of $5 per adult and $3 per child for the restoration of the island is included in all public ferry tickets.

If you choose to go by water taxi, private boat, seaplane or helicopter the amount is payable in cash once you get onto the island.

Can I stay overnight on Rotoroa Island?

Camping is not permitted on Rotoroa Island but shared hostel accommodation is available at the Superintendent’s House.

A small number of holiday homes are also available to be booked.

White shorelines, distant islands, green waters, and yachts anchored at Rotorua Island.
Can you imagine a more stunning spot? Photo credit: Rotoroa Island NZ

9. Kawau Island

One of the best holiday locations in the Hauraki Gulf has a significant and interesting history.

Kawau Island was originally settled by Māori until it was abandoned in the 1820’s.

In 1962 the island was purchased by Sir George Grey – one of New Zealand’s first governors. He employed architects to create the current Mansion House and its gardens which housed plants and animals from all across the world.

Although no wildly exotic creatures can be found here today, peacocks still strut around the gardens and wallabies can be found running wild too. It really is a beautiful spot to visit.

Aside from the mansion, Kawau Island is famous for its many trails, crystal clear bays and dining options.

It is often referred to as the ‘jewel of Hauraki’ and is one of the largest islands in the Gulf.

Things to do on Kawau Island
  • Visit the Mansion House and its gardens
  • Walk along the Miners Track to see the mine from the 1840’s
  • Explore the half sunken boat in Shipwreck Bay
  • Kayak around the islands’ bays
  • Walk the Redwood Track
  • Dine out on Kawau Island
  • Head to Lady’s Bay
  • Walk the Schoolhouse Bay Road.
  • Join the Royal Mail Run Cruise (which departs Sandspit daily).
How to Get to Kawau Island

From 8 am daily, ferries run from Sandspit Wharf to to Kawau Island – but you need to book tickets in advance. To get to Sandspit in the first place, you’ll need to drive for approximately an hour from Auckland’s CBD.

If you are looking for a more unique way to get to the island then why not go on the Royal Mail Run Cruise, which will take you on a tour all around the island too?

You can also choose to get a water taxi or seaplane if you wish. Private boats are also commonly used to get to Kawau Island.

Can I stay overnight on Kawau Island?

There are various different accommodation options when it comes to staying overnight on Kawau Island, making an extended holiday a breeze.

However, there are no campsites located on the Island.

Yachts anchored in the bay of Kawau Island.
Kawau Island is the perfect place to hire a bach and relax. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Davis

20. Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

Great Barrier Island is one of the largest islands in New Zealand and a favourite holiday destination for many Aucklanders.

Formerly exploited for minerals and used as agricultural land, today the island is inhabited by people and is a popular tourist attraction. Now, it offers a glimpse into a quieter, more relaxed New Zealand lifestyle.

Originally known by its Māori name, Aotea, Great Barrier Island got its new name as it acts as a barrier between the Hauraki Gulf and the Pacific Ocean. It is now known by both names.

Aotea Great Barrier Island is now a popular tourist attraction due to its incredible nature, beautiful beaches and hiking trails.

It is also particularly popular with astronomy lovers as it is a Dark Sky Sanctuary. This makes it perfect for stargazing!

Things to do on Great Barrier Island
  • Stargaze at Medlands Beach
  • Go scuba diving
  • Have a soak in the Kaitoke Hot Springs
  • Walk to the White Cliffs (Te Ahumata)
  • Go fishing
  • Hire an electric motorbike or e-bike to explore the Island
  • Hike up to Mount Hobson
  • Go Surfing
  • Go horse riding
  • Walk the Harataonga coastal walk
  • Take on the Aotea track.
How to Get to Great Barrier Island

You can travel to Great Barrier Island by Sealink Ferry which is able to transport both passengers and vehicles. The journey takes about 4 hours 30 minutes, and if you are lucky you might be able to spot dolphins and whales on the way.

Alternatively, you can also choose to fly to Great Barrier Island or take a water taxi.

Some prefer to fly (as the sailing can be quite rough) but having your car on the island is a real bonus – for this reason, we prefer to catch the ferry.

Can I stay overnight on Great Barrier Island?

The are various choices when it comes to staying overnight on Great Barrier Island.

There are plenty of luxurious places to stay around the island, as well as backpacker lodges.

Campsites run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) are also located on the island.

It’s important to book accommodation in advance, as this island is a popular destination – particularly in the summer season.

Two young couples resting on their backpacks while sitting on a wooden platform and watching a great view of Great Barrier Island.
Enjoy spectacular views from Great Barrier Island. Photo credit: Todd Eyre

As you can see there are so many incredible and unique islands in Auckland.

Whether you like to bird watch, relax on the beach or hike, there is an island for everyone.

Each island within the Hauraki Gulf offers something different, but they are all great destinations for any traveller.

Which of these Islands will you check out first during your visit to Auckland?

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