When I floated the idea of a day trip to Tiritiri Matangi, my 10-year-old son Jack's initial questions were "what is there to do?", "are there shops?" and "what will I be able to buy?" When I explained Tiri is an island in the Hauraki Gulf with nothing but native birds and trees, a look of bewilderment crossed his face.
Nevertheless, we set off on a sunny Saturday morning on the 75-minute ferry trip to the island sitting off the tip of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. It's said to be one of the most successful volunteer conservation projects in the world. Restoration began in the mid-1980s after much of the island's forest was stripped by farming. For more than a decade thousands of volunteers planted nearly 300,000 native trees. As the years passed, the trees flourished and native wildlife was reintroduced. Now, many endangered species prosper including kiwi, takahe, kokako, stitchbirds and brown teal. If you're lucky you may even spot a tuatara.
Tour guides are available at a small cost (adults $5, children $2.50) and are worth it, especially for first-timers like us. Our guide was friendly and passionate about the island, and even kept Jack engaged with many interesting Tiri facts.
As we meandered our way through the lush greenery, a cacophony of birdsong echoed through the trees. There are numerous feeding stations along the way, with strategically placed seats where visitors can sit and watch the birds from close range. They might be wild but they are surprisingly tame and didn't seem bothered by our presence. Jack relaxed into the atmosphere, and I was touched to hear him say "I could stay here all day".
We finished our tour at the famous Tiri lighthouse, which began beaming light across the Gulf in 1865. We found a spot to sit and enjoy our packed lunch while taking in panoramic views of the Gulf. Greg, the island's oldest takahe, confidently wanderered between picnickers. It is here that you can indulge in a bit of shopping, at a gift shop stocked with island momentos.
We had a couple of hours to ourselves before we needed to be back at the ferry, so we explored some of the walking tracks that vary in length and fitness level, making the island accessible and challenging enough to suit all ages and abilities.
We emerged from the bush into Hobbs Bay, a stony but picturesque beach on the west side of the island, and saw the ferry waiting to take us back to downtown Auckland. We were reluctant to leave the island's tranquility, but I enjoyed hearing the kids on the ferry enthusing about the day and know we'll be back to explore more of Tiri.
Getting there: 360 Discovery provides a ferry service from downtown Auckland via Gulf Harbour (at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, one hour's drive from Auckland).
Bookings: For bookings phone 0800 360 3472. Ferries depart Wed-Sun, 9am from downtown, 9.50am from Gulf Harbour, returning 3.30pm.
Price: Adults $66 from Akl, $49 from Gulf Harbour; children (5-15) $29/$24.50; family $161/$125.