It’s often said that the islands of the Hauraki Gulf are the jewels in Auckland’s crown. They offer a natural playground on Auckland’s doorstep, with the pleasure of a scenic boat trip across the Waitemata to get there.
Each island has its own character, from large, populated islands such as Waiheke, to smaller islands that are precious, closed nature reserves, such as Hauturu/ Little Barrier or the Mokohinau Islands, providing a sanctuary for endangered native species.
The Hauraki Gulf islands with their forests, hills and bountiful seas first provided a home and food source for Maori iwi, and then for Europeans, who exploited the timber, whales and fish, minerals and fertile land they found there. And by golly, the islands are a wonderful place to escape the city in summer.
Governor George Grey created his own idyllic retreat on Kawau in 1862, and Aucklanders were making trips out to enjoy Waiheke as early as the 1850s. It’s really in the last 90 years that baches as we know them have become commonplace in the Hauraki Gulf though. The baches on Rangitoto Island were built in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and provide a great snapshot of a holiday community from that time.
By the 1920s the coastal subdivision at Matiatia-Oneroa on Waiheke was offering sections for seaside holiday homes to Aucklanders, accessible by the daily boat service. The early baches often were built with recycled materials, without power or indoor toilets, and were furnished very simply. Nowadays there are hundreds of holiday homes to choose amongst, from basic cabins to luxurious lodges, with swimming pools and designer kitchens.
The appeal of spending a summer holiday on a beautiful, subtropical island never wanes. Fish, swim, boat, laze about there; islands of the Hauraki Gulf - we salute you.
Waiheke is famed for beautiful beaches, excellent vineyards, a flourishing arts scene, good food and a climate just that little bit warmer and sunnier than Auckland. No wonder it’s so popular. Waiheke is the second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf, and at a mere 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland it’s the most accessible.
Jump on one of the frequent ferries, sit back with a drink, cruise across the Waitemata and you can see why 2000 or so of the 8700 permanent residents find the commute to Auckland quite doable thank you. The western end of the island is the most populated, with settlements and beaches at Oneroa and Palm Beach facing north, and Blackpool, Surfdale, Ostend and Rocky Bay facing south.
The eastern end of the island is given over more to farmland and boutique vineyards, with the WW2 gun emplacements of Stony Batter a popular spot to visit at the north eastern tip of the island. Along with its natural beauty, Waiheke also has festivals, dance parties and events to tempt visitors throughout the year. “Aucklanders are said to be pleasure-loving” proclaimed a brochure for the Matiatia subdivision, started in the 1920s - and 90 years on we’re still flocking to the island for the perfect summer holiday combination of sun, sand, sea and bush.
Great Barrier Island (Aotea)
Aotea, or Great Barrier Island defines the limit of the Hauraki Gulf, and is its largest island. Named by Captain Cook for the way it provides a protective barrier between the Pacific and the Hauraki Gulf, the island has surf on the long, white, sandy ocean beaches of the west coast, and secluded bays and coves on the east coast. 90kms NE of Auckland, “The Barrier” conjures up an image of remoteness and wilderness, with its unsealed roads, forested interior, and lack of electricity.
The sheltered inlets are equally beloved by boaties and mussel farmers. Over 60% of the island is managed by DOC, and the regenerating kauri forest is home to rare native birds and skinks. There are great forest trails to hike, or take a mountain bike and conquer the hills. The coastline offers a wealth of spots to dive for crays and shellfish, surf, kayak, or fish. Or if you’d rather just soak up the sun luxuriously, there are some surprisingly stylish holiday homes around too.
Over the last four centuries Kawau has been home to Ngai Tai, Ngati Manuhiri, Cornish and Welsh miners, Sir George Grey and his menagerie, (the wallabies and kookaburras remain) and more recently, holiday makers and island residents who appreciate the tranquility, bush, bird-life and beautiful bays surrounding the island.
Ferries and water taxis run from Sandspit Wharf, just over an hour’s drive north of Auckland. There are no public roads, so take the opportunity to walk, paddle or sail round the island to visit George Grey’s stately home at Mansion House Bay, or the old copper mine, or the yacht club - a good place to pick up stores or have a pint.
Rotoroa Island was NZ’s first and longest running drug and alcohol addiction treatment centre. It was bought by the Salvation Army in 1907, and provided care for over 12,000 admissions until its closure in 2005. The island was completely off-limits to the public for about 100 years. Then, in 2008, philanthropists Neal and Annette Plowman negotiated a 99-year lease from the Salvation Army, and established the Rotoroa Island Trust, designed to return island access to the people of New Zealand.
In 2011 Rotoroa Island was opened to the public as a visitor attraction, with a great museum and a host of heritage buildings. The island also features beautiful beaches and extensive native planting. Three homes which were once occupied by staff who worked on the island have been renovated, in great 70s retro style, and since 2012 have been offered as holiday accommodation.
Rakino is a small, hilly island to the northeast of Motutapu. There are about 76 houses on the island, most of them holiday homes as there are only 16 or so permanent residents. There’s a wharf at Sandy Bay, and some lovely, safe beaches. Visitors appreciate the quiet, with great fishing, diving, views and scenery.
Rangitoto burst from the sea in a volcanic eruption a mere 700 or so years ago. The island rises steeply, an iconic shape on Auckland’s skyline, its rugged lava outcrops cloaked by NZ’s largest pohutukawa forest. While you can’t stay at baches here any more, it’s a great day trip from Auckland: sail out and hike up to the summit for superb views of the Hauraki Gulf.
If walking sounds too strenuous, catch the Fullers 4WD road-train up. Rangitoto is also home to one of New Zealand’s oldest bach communities. Built in the ‘20s and ‘30s, these baches give a glimpse into holidays of that period. “Bach 38” has been restored as a museum by the Rangitoto Island Heritage Trust and can sometimes be visited. Rangitoto is connected to Motutapu Island by a causeway.
While there are no baches here, Tiritiri Matangi is a wonderful place to visit, and can be reached by ferry from downtown Auckland, or by private boat. It’s a DOC-managed scientific reserve, and home to tuatara as well as rare native birds such as takahe, whiteheads, saddlebacks, kakariki, kokako, little spotted kiwi, stitchbirds, robins, rifleman and brown teal.