The Hauraki Gulf is a wonderland. Growing up on boats we experienced so much of Tāmaki Makaurau's coastlines from the sea-side of things, anchoring in bays off Waiheke and rowing ashore to explore, fishing around the Noises and off Motutapu Island, taking in the heart-shaped cone of Rangitoto as we sped by in our little Pelin Empress. But it's recently come to my attention there are quite a few of our little islands I've never been ashore on, and - Auckland travel restrictions permitting - I've decided to make it my mission to visit as many of them as I can.
Tiritiri Matangi is a 75-minute ferry from Downtown Auckland, and it's home to a flurry of my most favourite things - New Zealand native birds. It's absurd to me that I've never taken this trip, and stranger still that we never brought our boat into the coves around the 220-hectare paradise, where the water is an exquisite, translucent blue.
The island has been a recreation reserve since 1970, and work began in the early 80s to replant much of the island's native trees and shrubs that had been decimated by farming, creating a lush forest sanctuary for our birds. Within moments of alighting the ferry and heading off down one of the tracks, the haunting call of the kōkako found us through the trees. I've never seen a kōkako in real life, I've never heard its call in the wild, and I got goosebumps. Though we never managed to spot one, its song followed us like a ghost companion across the morning.
Early on we all became obsessed with a water trough on the Wattle trail. It's very dry on the island at the moment, and the trough was an extremely popular stop-off for tīeke, korimako, tūī, kākāriki, and hihi. The joy of watching korimako plunging in and out of the water and shaking their tail feathers is something that will stay with me for a long time. Seeing several threatened species lining up at the same time to bathe and drink was charming, and when you factor in the sandwiches we scoffed as we watched from a thoughtfully placed seat, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend an hour of your life.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Unless of course, you take the track up to the centre of the island, where you can refill your water bottle or buy something to eat at the cafe there because if you do that, there's every chance you'll trip over a small blue dinosaur. I've never seen such tame takahē in my life — one was roaming the grass beside the cafe for all the world like a serious little warden. There are some juveniles on the island at the moment, and we got close enough to watch the parents ripping out grass by its roots and feeding the seeds to their offspring. The liquid crunch of the grass giving way and the murmuring noises of takahē youngsters as they were fed really rounded out a brilliant morning.
New Zealand's oldest operating lighthouse is on Tiritiri Matangi, and if you like a lighthouse, this immaculate specimen is the one for you. The panoramic view of the Gulf from atop the adjacent two-storey cottage is terrific. You can peer in the windows at the old telephones, morse code machinery and radios too. The lighthouse went up in 1865, and in the 1960s Auckland's mayor at the time paid for the wattage of its light to be increased from one million candlepower to 11 million. For a time it was the brightest light in the Southern Hemisphere. Still operational today but fully automated, its signal is a constant beacon for vessels at sea in the Gulf.
Once you're tired of ogling birds and brilliant parts of history, the only sensible approach is to head across the island to Hobbs Beach, where the best swimming is to be had, because of the sandy beach and quiet cove. It was crowded when we arrived, with many visitors down to their togs in that azure water, and many boats pulled up to enjoy the afternoon sunshine.
Laying there on the sand, it occurred to me that we must be one of the luckiest nations in the world, to have these restored and protected islands a boat ride away. So much care has gone into the reforestation, and the reintroduction of species, and as I listened to korimako serenading us from the trees, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for our conservation teams. On departure I saw many people carefully packing their rubbish away in their bags, making sure to leave no trace of their visit, and it gave me real hope that such conscious care is possible in all parts of the country, not just on our marine islands.
CHECKLIST: TIRITIRI MATANGI
DETAILSFullers Ferries travel from downtown Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi, with departures available Wednesdays to Sundays during alert level 1 and 2. fullers.co.nz