An inside look at Parohe Island Retreat on Auckland's Kawau Island. Video / Parohe Island Retreat
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The ‘other’ islands of Aotearoa are waiting to be discovered, writes Thomas Bywater
After two years exploring Aotearoa, you might think you’ve seen it all. There are many motu in our patch of the Pacific you might never have thought of as related to New Zealand in any way. The Realm of New Zealand stretches from hidden corners, cut off from the “mainland” to a host of neighbouring island countries and territories. It includes the edge of Antarctica to Tokelau, just south of the Equator.
Here’s how you can get to them.
Stars, Surf and solitude are what bring people to Aotea.
New Zealand’s fourth largest island by area, Great Barrier sits 90km away from Auckland out in the Hauraki Gulf. If you take the half-hour flight (or four-hour ferry) you’ll feel like you’re in the outer isles of the South Pacific. It’s definitely a couple of degrees more tropical. The pristine Medlands Beach is a favourite haunt for surfers. Without a centralised power grid there’s no light pollution either. The island was made a Dark Sky sanctuary in 2017. Tune into the island’s radio station Aotea FM, the world’s first solar-powered broadcast, for a taste of island life.
Over the Marlborough Sounds and the narrow ridge of French Pass, lies D’Urville Island.
The possum-free island in the Cook Strait is a hardy and secluded spot at the end of the tracks in Admiralty Bay. A short hop by boat, the 6000 hectares of public conservation land are also home to some legendary mountain bike tracks. Grades 3-5, the downhill is not for beginners and – needless to say – there is no bike hire on the island.
In Catherine Cove you’ll find the D’Urville Island Resort, the only public accommodation on this furthest corner of the sounds.
With safe moorings and self-catering baches, it’s designed to be reached by boat. There’s a water taxi to the island. Fishing charters can be arranged through the accommodation and “cook your catch” through the resort restaurant.
For local Kāpiti Coaster Peter Jackson, it was “Skull Island” – a mysterious island off the shore. While you won’t find King Kong, thanks to rat and predator eradication the island reserve is rich with native bird life.
It’s easy to get to on a day trip with Kapiti Eco Tours, from Paraparaumu Beach. Or you can extend your trip overnight with glamping and cabin options from Kāpiti Island Nature Tours to maximise your chance of seeing nocturnal little spotted kiwi.
Ulva Island is a sanctuary within a sanctuary. Just off the shore near Oban on Rakiura / Stewart Island, you’ll find a riot of wildlife, even at this southern extreme of New Zealand.
Kākā and yellowheads swoop overhead, while the shores are overrun by weka and sleeping sea lions. The odd elephant seal and leopard seal have been known to beach themselves on the sheltered island. Beware of what you presume to be boulders!
The journey over from Patterson inlet is made via the Ulva Island Ferry. Tickets – made from scrub leaves – can be bought on the pier at Golden Bay.
It’s hard to imagine a more remote corner of New Zealand than the Chatham Islands. Pitt is the most exposed of the lot. At 176.226 degrees West, Pitt Island / Rangiauria is the first speck of land across the international Date Line to see the new day. This fact is marked by the sculptural summit piece on Mount Hakepa. Four sculptures by Polish artist Woytek were placed there for New Year’s Day at the millennium and have become a pilgrimage for travellers seeking the “edge of the world”.
Flower Pot Lodge attracts equally adventurous guests. Providing relative luxury on this tiny outpost of Aotearoa, visitors can book fishing and 4×4 charters to explore the island.
For 306 New Zealand dollars, cash, the fortnightly ferry will take you from Apia, Samoa to Nukunonu – the most remote corner of New Zealand’s sister islands.
Like the Cook Islands and Niue, Tokelau uses Kiwi currency and passports, but is a lot harder to get to.
Nukunonu, the largest of three islands, is also home to the only public hotel, the Luana Liki Hotel ($50 per night, with meals). The Government of Tokelau advises there is no established tourism industry and that the majority of visitors are family visiting from New Zealand. A country largely based on fishing, the system of “inati” means that each catch is distributed between a village evenly.
The forgotten isles, 1000km northeast of Northland, are a special conservation area requiring a special permit to visit. Raoul Island is the largest of the group and was home to the Bells – New Zealand’s Swiss Family Robinson – between 1878 and 1914. A waypoint for migratory fish following the deep-sea trench, it is a snorkeller’s paradise.
A 10-day trip is led by Heritage Expeditions out of Tauranga.
New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands are pristine natural outposts thanks to their position and work by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. Albatross, Auckland Island penguins and the enormous Hooker Sea Lions outnumber guests, who turn up via infrequent cruise journeys.
Ponant is leading luxury departures from Bluff to see Auckland Island’s natural harbour and the “loneliest tree in the world” at Campbell Island, aboard Le Soleal.


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