New Zealand is so much more than the North and South Islands. Every one of our spectacular outer islands is a gem. Here are a few of our favourites — and what to know before you go.
A haven of stunning vineyards, bursting olive groves and pristine beaches, Waiheke gives serious Mediterranean vibes. With elegant wineries, charming villages and low-key pubs, you’ll be spoiled for choice. White sand beaches at Oeneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi are perfect spots for a dip in the Hauraki Gulf (or is it the Med?) and networks of hiking tracks offer beautiful bush rambles. Accommodation ranges from cosy bach hires to luxurious winery stays, and bike and car hire is easy.
Getting there: Grab a ferry from Auckland City. To truly arrive in style, ask us about helicopter transfers from Auckland!
Sitting nearly 800km from our main islands, these guys almost qualify as overseas travel! There are plenty of accommodation options — from indulgent lodges to cosy homestays — and more than a few excellent restaurants serving incredibly fresh seafood. You’ll find shops full of wine and spirits, locally made honey and more. With museums, art shops, historic sites, endless expanses of bush and beach, and even a basalt walk, there’s plenty to explore. And with health services, sporting clubs and fishing charters, you’ll have everything you need. Well, except mobile phone coverage.
Getting there: Fly with Air Chathams from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch.
GREAT BARRIER ISLAND
A treasure trove of nature in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. Great Barrier is brimming with golden sand beaches, natural hot pools, lush native bush, easy-going locals and even a few small peaks. The multi-day Aotea Track hits many of the highlights, but we especially recommend a dip in the Kaitoke hot springs and a walk to the top of Windy Canyon. You’ll find plenty of quirky art galleries, potteries and museums here too, as well as delicious local dining, cosy accommodation and seriously low-key vibes. You may be off the grid on Great Barrier, but you won’t be roughing it!
Getting there: Fly with Barrier Air from Auckland or North Shore Airports or grab a car ferry from Auckland City.
With 80 percent of its land designated national park, it’s no surprise this island’s a beacon for nature lovers. Stewart Island is home to one of New Zealand’s Great Walks — the Rakiura Track, a 32-kilometer, 2- or 3-day circular walk covering stunning beaches, historic tram lines and lush native bush. Oban is the island’s only town, and thanks to its strong Scottish roots, beautiful birdsong and incredibly fresh seafood, it’s completely charming.
Getting there: Grab a ferry from Bluff, Southland, a quick flight from Invercargill or a specialised cruise.
Waiting off the Kapiti Coast, this one’s is a veritable haven for incredible wildlife. It’s also one of the country’s oldest nature reserves. Playful Kaka parrots are everywhere (watch your snacks!), and you might get lucky enough to see rare spotted Kiwi once the sun goes down. Amenities are thin on the ground. Only a few locals live on the north end of the island, and just one lodge welcomes visitors — you’re definitely off the grid on Kapiti!
Getting there: Grab a ferry from Paraparaumu Beach or join an organised tour. We recommend an overnight kiwi spotting tour, which takes care of the logistics and gives you a decent chance to meet those notorious shy guys.
POOR KNIGHTS ISLANDS
Just off the Tutukaka Coast, these little-known gems are world-renowned for incredible diving — in fact, they're up for World Heritage status! There’s plenty to impress — caves, arches, sponge gardens and tunnels — but the highlight has to be a shipwreck site of two navy ships, the Waikato and the Tui. On land, meanwhile, there are significant and sacred Maori sites to visit — including some of the best preserved remnants of pa sites and terraced gardens in New Zealand — and the many rare birds and tuatara call out to nature lovers. These islands are truly off the grid, and two campsites are the only accommodation.
Getting there: Charter boats from Auckland, Leigh, Whangarei, Tutukaka and Bay of Islands will bring visitors.
Rangitoto, the volcanic peak just off Auckland’s North Shore, offers spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and plenty of nature to explore. The walk up Rangitoto generally takes about 2 hours through Pohutukawa forest and lava fields. There are no shops or dining on the island, but you can book into a historic bach for overnight stays.
Getting there: Grab a ferry from Auckland City.
TIRITIRI MATANGI ISLAND
Waiting in the sparkling waters northeast of Auckland City, this island is a pristine wildlife sanctuary and conservation project. It’s covered in regenerating forest and grasslands — and home to endangered species like the flightless takahe and tuatara. You’ll find a small shop selling drinks and a rustic bunkhouse here, so visitors must bring their own food and supplies. Don’t forget that corkscrew!
Getting there: Grab a ferry from Auckland City.