Discovering New Zealand's islands
For most Europeans, New Zealand is best known for roaming wineries, the Haka and being the land of the Lord of the Rings. But New Zealand has much more to offer. After all, there are around 600 islands. Yes, most people might be surprised to learn that New Zealand isn't just made up of the 2 main islands – the North and South.
With that many islands and 15,000km of coastline – more coastline than mainline USA - it's no surprise that New Zealand is a place of great adventure, beauty and culture. Hopping around the islands – usually by sailing – is one of the great ways to discover all the different elements that make New Zealand such a special place.
Wild beauty and gentle rhythms define this tranquil island, where open skies and undisturbed land set the scene for you to reconnect with nature. It's officially New Zealand's third-largest island, but the population is tiny. Around 400 people call it home – but you won't be treated like an outside when you visit.
You'll get to discover National Parks, which make up over 85% of the island, taking on a huge selection of walks, from scenic strolls to hikes lasting multiple days. The Maori name for the island translates to the land of glowing skies, and it's easy to see why.
Wherever you find yourself on the island, you'll get expansive skylines, stunning sunsets and if you're lucky, the Aurora Australis – the Southern hemisphere's sister to the famous Northern Lights.
We like to think of this almost like 'the good life' island. Even if it's just under an hour's ferry ride from Auckland, it's a world away in terms of lifestyle and culture. Waiheke invites its visitors to spend time appreciating the privilege of just… being. Being at peace, being relaxed, being surrounded by sprawling olive groves and beaches, being able to sit in a boutique café and enjoy a lazy coffee morning.
With a welcoming, hassle-free vibe, you can expect to find plenty of artists and a true local feel. Check out of the rat race and kick back like the cat who got the cream as you enjoy food sourced locally and wine from any of the plentiful vineyards that populate the island.
Waiheke's other defining feature is its top quality produce. Often nicknamed the Island of Wine, the island attracts up to 800,000 visitors each year who come to tour the wineries and sample the wines. If you do plan on visiting Waiheke, November to March is when the vine leaves are in full bloom and the local restaurants boom with the freshest, fullest wines.
Tiritiri Matangi Island
This whole island is a dedicated nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Located in the Hauraki Gulf, it's not an exaggeration to call the island a true paradise; where else in the world will your days have their very own birdsong soundtrack? Pest and predator free, rare and endangered species get to roam freely, and as you take one of the walking tracks you'll get to meet them along the way!
Pack a picnic and head to the unspoiled Hobbs Beach or take a forested walk at your own pace. You should make some time to head to the visitor centre up by the charming old lighthouse where you can learn more about the island and buy a souvenir. All profits come back to supporting the island's conservation and education programmes.
Just a short ferry ride away from Auckland – the city of sails - lies Rangitoto - the island of fire. Rangitoto Island delivers the drama, providing tourists and natives a volcanic background that's visible even in parts of Auckland. The symmetrical shield volcano cone towers 260m over the Hauraki Gulf and, yes, you can hike up the summit if you're feeling adventurous (and if you're feeling like adventure without the exercise, you can take a 4WD road train up to the summit too).
You can go even further and explore the lava caves, getting to witness the majesty of nature in ways you might never have had the chance to before.
A trip to Kawau Island is a trip to New Zealand's past. Originally settled by early Maori tribes, the island was later discovered to have copper coursing through it. Intriguing ruins of the underground mines and engine houses still stand today. The island was bought by one of New Zealand's first governors, Sir George Grey, back in the 1800s. Grey erected a stunning, stately mansion that is open to visitors year-round, who can expect to see plenty of peacocks strutting around the gardens.
There's a school of thought that believes until you can learn to love your own company, you won't know true happiness. To get in some quality alone time, book the first ticket to Chatham Islands. Perfect for lovers of solitude and wilderness, these remote, expansive islands are a reminder of the power of undisturbed nature. Roaming lands, diverse wildlife and a majestic marine culture combine to provide the ultimate experience in being off the beaten track.
If you're a poet, writer, painter or artist of any kind, this is the sort of island that'll allow you to drown out the noise and connect back with nature, and your own thoughts.
Poor Knights Islands
Dive right into the action at this island, located on the Tutukaka coast. With plenty of opportunities for diving at all ability levels, this is an island of excitement. The most popular dive to take at Poor Knights Island is a shipwreck dive, where you'll get up close and personal with two sunken navy ships. Get an unforgettable encounter with a time gone by as you see the wrecked gunships.
Great Barrier Island
The most seaward island in the Hauraki Golf, one of the biggest draws of this island is its status as a boating paradise. For thousands of years it has sheltered Auckland's harbour from the swells of the Pacific Ocean, making it an ideal place for sailors and watersports fans. Visit this island if you're looking to make a real splash – go scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, kayaking and fishing.
On land, the adventure carries on. With plenty of walking tracks, you can trek your way up Mount Hobson for unbeatable panoramic views or you can stumble upon secluded natural hot springs for a pampering treat straight from Mother Nature herself.