Tiritiri Matangi Island may be the very best that Auckland has to offer. It’s the best place in New Zealand to experience rare and endangered wildlife. It also offers stunning old-growth and regenerating bush, pristine beaches with clear turquoise waters, and world-class coastal views.
Milesteppin.com has been around now for 2 years! I’m happy to be celebrating by posting about a place as special as Tiritiri Matangi. I’m going to post separately about each of my 3 days on the island.
Getting to Tiritiri Matangi Island
Tiritiri Matangi Island can be visited as a day trip. There’s one ferry out each day, Wednesday through Sunday, and one ferry back. This gives you about 5 hours on the island. To better experience the island I booked 2 nights in the Tiritiri Matangi Island bunkhouse. I was able to do this around 2 weeks in advance in peak season.
I studied carefully all of the information provided on the Department of Conservation website for booking and packing for Tiritiri Matangi, including the biosecurity requirements. As an open wildlife sanctuary, invasive species have been removed from the island, and efforts are ongoing to keep it pest-free. I put some time into cleaning my hiking boots, which were the muddiest they had ever been after completing Kaipatiki Coastal Walk 2. All equipment must be clean, all food containers must be mouse and ant-proof, and bags must be closed so as to prevent any small creatures from stowing away.
The ferry ride itself is very scenic. It takes about 50 minutes to travel from Auckland to Gulf Harbor, and about 20 more to Tiritiri Matangi Island. I wasn’t ready at this early stage to see any of the creatures I was hoping to encounter, and missed a great chance to take pictures of a pair of little blue penguins swimming out for a day of fishing. I’ve linked to a great picture by Philip Griffin instead, below.
I had conversations with several friendly and enthusiastic volunteers before arriving at Gulf Harbor as well, and began to take in helpful information.
Arrival and Guided Walk
I could have packed more for my visit to Tiritiri Matangi, because the ranger greets the ferry and hauls everyone’s luggage to the bunkhouse. A wheeled suitcase would have actually worked better than my backpack.
Several visitors took the opportunity to photograph a map of the island posted at the shelter near the wharf.
There is a short orientation to the island, followed by a guided walk that I booked when I booked the ferry. I chose the longest of 3 options available. We started along Hobbs Beach Track. This side of the island looks west across the Hauraki Gulf toward Shakespear Regional Park and Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
Private boats anchor off of Tiritiri Matangi Island. Some people come ashore to enjoy Hobbs Beach.
After Hobbs Beach our guide continued onto Kawerau Track. Kawerau Track leads through some of the densest and oldest forest on the island. She gave us lots of information about the birds we saw, and some that we didn’t, and also about the trees and plants, and about the island itself.
We met a takahē along Ridge Road. This is probably the rarest creature on the island, and one of the rarest animals in the world. There are about 300 takahē, between 70 and 80 of which live in the wild. Our guide was able to identify this bird by the bands on its legs, but unfortunately I don’t recall its name.
Our guide reminded us of an unfortunate incident in 2015 in which the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association was hired by the Department of Conservation to carry out a cull of pukeko, a non-endangered, very common relative of the takahē, on Motutapu Island, and during the cull they killed four takahē – 5% of the wild population.
I got a much better picture of a pair of takahē at Orokonui Ecosanctuary north of Dunedin.
Although there aren’t many takahē on Tiritiri Matangi, it isn’t too unusual to see them because they’re not especially afraid of people.
A takahē named Greg used to greet the visitors on the ferry when it arrived in the morning, then run up to the visitors center and mingle with the people there. Greg was nearly 20 when he died in 2012. He fathered lots of babies, and many of them still live on Tiritiri Matangi. Enjoy the video of Greg the Takahē below – but don’t feed wild animals, or try to attract them with food, like the visitor in the video!
I knew the guided walk was over when I spotted the lighthouse and bunkhouse. I guess the land in the distance must be the Coromandel Peninsula.
I went to the bunkhouse for an orientation on staying there. About half of the residents were researchers or volunteers. I got the scoop on the bunkhouse, and lots more info on the island and its flora and fauna. I found a place to put my stuff, and had lunch.
Walking has become a habit. When I have a day free, I think about where I’ll walk. This habit has kept me active and exploring New Zealand. When I finished lunch I had about 5 hours until sunset, and I knew that it takes about 4 hours to walk all the way around the island, so that’s what I did.
I passed by the lighthouse and visitors center and followed the East Coast Track. The first little bay I saw demanded I take pictures. I think this may be Chinaman Bay.
After the ferry leaves at 3:30pm, the only people on the island are residents of the bunkhouse and a few DOC staff. If you go anywhere other than the bunkhouse or Hobbs Beach, it’s like having the island to yourself.
Tui are common in New Zealand, but they’re much loved for their song and their personality. At first tui look like a black bird with a small tuft of white feathers at its neck, but a closer look reveals that the tui, although not bright, is very colorful.
There is some bush on the East Coast Track.
And lots of beautiful coastline.
Fishermans Bay is an especially scenic one. A few boats anchored there, but I didn’t see anyone come ashore.
I didn’t visit the foreshore anywhere along Tiritiri Matangi’s east coast, although Pohutukawa Cove, too, was tempting.
Bright colors are not common among New Zealand birds, so I was immediately interested in the kākāriki, or red-crowned parakeet. I was happy to encounter large numbers of these birds along the North East Bay track, on the northeastern coast of Tiritiri Matangi.
It was easy to identify what they like to eat. I found them less shy than I expected, although I didn’t get very close.
Saddlebacks, or tieke, are common on Tiritiri Matangi, and they’re not exactly shy, but it quickly became clear that it would be a challenge to get a good picture. They made a habit of shouting at me from partial concealment, and never standing still for long.
I improved with practice, and on the 2nd and especially the 3rd day I got much better pictures of the wildlife.
The New Zealand pigeon or kererū is a common bird, and always a welcome sight.
I walked to Papakura Pa near the northern tip of the island, and to Tiritiri Matangi Pa on my way south. As with many pa, I couldn’t get a good look at the lay of the land, or understand their defensive advantages as a site for a fortified village. I do recognize however that those villages both had outstanding views.
That great evening light made everything look better as I walked back to the bunkhouse. Tiritiri Matangi feels like a different world than central Auckland, but if you look south, Rangitoto Island and the CDB and Sky Tower are there to remind you that they’re just a little over an hour away.
I returned to the bunkhouse for dinner and a rest, but my day wasn’t over.
Red light is less disruptive for the nocturnal animals, so red cellophane was made available at the bunkhouse, and rubber bands to hold it in place.
I was less than 20 minutes along the Wattle Track when I came suddenly face to face with a little spotted kiwi. We both froze. My light was brighter than what I had used to meet the North Island brown kiwi at Trounson Kauri Park on Kauri Coast. Its eyes glowed as it stared back at me. I made a noise, and it turned and ran away. I had brought my camera, but I didn’t try to take a picture.
Little spotted kiwi are the smallest species of kiwi. They were brought to Tiritiri Matangi, and aren’t believed to have lived there before. They’re breeding well on the island, and the population is increasing.
I walked to Hobbs Beach. enjoying the scenery in the light of the moon and the sounds of the night creatures. The I walked back to the bunkhouse, had a shower, and got into my bunk as quietly as possible.
You can view the full gallery of 27 pictures below. To view on imgur click here.