New Zealand is a country of islands — and we don't just mean the main two that many of us call home. In fact, there are an estimated 600 islands located within 50 kilometres of the coast.
While we're familiar with the most popular destinations for an extended island holiday (hello Waiheke, Great Barrier and Stewart Island), there are countless other islands where you can stop and stay a while.
With accommodation ranging from campgrounds and huts to luxury stays, here are 12 islands that make the boat trip worthwhile.
Pepin Island, Nelson Tasman
You've likely already seen images of this island — which has become Insta-famous for its stunning soaker tubs sitting 400m above sea level — without realising it was located on an island. In fact, the privately owned 1280-acre Pepin Island is connected to the mainland by a naturally formed boulder bank and road, so you don't have to get on a boat to get there. That's not to say there's no adventure in the journey. You'll need to hike at least 30 minutes to access its three luxury baches — two of which have outdoor baths. Rates start from about $200 per night. Pepin Island is located 30 minutes from Nelson in Cable Bay. pepinislandfarm.co.nz
Ōtamahua/Quail Island, Canterbury
Nestled in Canterbury's Lyttelton Harbour, Ōtamahua/Quail Island is small enough to be explored in a day, but rich enough in history to warrant an overnight stay. Once a significant site for gathering food by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke, it has also been a 19th-century quarantine station, a 20th-century leper colony and even a potato farm — but today it's an uninhabited nature reserve managed by DoC. A round-trip ferry service operated by Black Cat Cruises will get you to the island's walking track and swimming beaches ($30 adults; $15 children 5 to 15), while a stay in the serviced 12-bunk hut (once the quarantine station's caretaker's cottage) will let you soak it all in. blackcat.co.nz/quail-island-adventures
Kāpiti Island, Wellington
If seeing a kiwi in the wild is on your bucket list, Kāpiti Coast locals will tell you that you don't have to head all the way to Stewart Island — you've got a pretty good chance of seeing one of the elusive birds on an overnight stay on Kāpiti Island. An estimated 1400 little spotted kiwis live on the 19.65sq km island, which is abundant with daytime birdlife as well. Considered one of New Zealand's first nature reserves (moves to protect it started as early as 1895), the predator-free wildlife sanctuary can be explored with Kapiti Island Nature Tours, whose all-inclusive overnight tours include accommodation, food and transportation, starting from $395 for adults ($230 for children). kapitiisland.com
Secretary Island, Fiordland
Looking for a true wilderness experience? One of the only places more remote than Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. But if you're looking to get even more off-the-beaten-path, you can take your adventure one step further by stopping on Secretary Island. One of the country's largest (it's just slightly smaller than Waiheke), this island is known for its plunging waterfall, which boat tours routinely travel past. Those who want to spend the night will need to arrive by private boat or kayak. Free accommodation is available at the very basic six-bunk "Gut Hut" on the island's south shores.
Matiu/Somes Island, Wellington
Auckland doesn't have a monopoly on islands within a short distance of its CBD. Wellington's Harbour is home to a handful, including one of the largest: Matiu/Somes Island. Like many of the islands on this list, it has rich Māori and European history. During a guided walk with a volunteer ranger, visitors will learn about its history as a pā site, quarantine station, internment camp and military defence position. East by West offers regular ferries from the city to the island's campsite in a sheep paddock (12 unpowered sites are available), but if tents aren't your thing, there are also two bookable DoC houses available on the island. eastbywest.co.nz
Motukawanui Island, Northland
When you think of hidden island paradises in Northland, the Bay of Islands are likely the first group to spring to mind. But if you look just a little further afield, you'll find the Cavalli Islands. This small group of islands can be found north of Kerikeri, with Motukawanui Island being the largest. The predator-free reserve flourishes with native birds — including North Island brown kiwi — as well as fur seals. Access to its 12-bunk serviced hut is by pre-arranged water taxi or private boat, but its location only 3km from the mainland means it can also be reached by kayak in fine weather. Auckland Sea Kayaks offers a guided three-day Cavalli Islands itinerary, in which guests get to stay on Motukawanui and then explore its surrounding islets of Motutapere, Panaki, Nukutaunga, Motuharakeke, Haraweka, and Motukawaiti Islands.
Motuarohia Island, Northland
With 144 islands stretching from Cape Brett to the Purerua Peninsula, the Bay of Islands is the quintessential island vacation destination. Yet, there are limited places to stay, such as Urupukapuka's three campgrounds. While it's the most well-known, it's not the only place you can bunker down for the night. Motuarohia, also known as Roberton Island, has two lagoons, sandy beaches, an ancient pā site, and even an underwater snorkel trail. Holiday rentals are available on this private island, including Pinewood Retreat, a two-bedroom house with a small swimming pool and ocean views. Bookable on Bachcare, Bookabach and other holiday home rental sites.
Tuhua/Mayor Island, Bay of Plenty
One of the most prominent islands within the Bay of Plenty, the 1277-hectare Tuhua/Mayor Island has a violent history of volcanic activity, resulting in peaks of up to 354 metres and colourful crater lakes. Today though, it's a peaceful and dormant (the last eruption was 60,000 years ago) place to spend the night. Most of the action these days comes from the healthy population of native birds, including kākā, shining cuckoos, and harrier hawks. The nearby marine reserve provides ample opportunities for snorkelling and diving (keep an eye out for bubbles created by the underwater hot spring), while there are walks ranging in length from one hour to eight hours. Both tent and cabin sites are available from Labour weekend until Easter, bookable through the Tuhua Trust Board (07 579 0580 or email@example.com), with transport by private charter.
Whakahau/Slipper Island, Coromandel
Interested in exploring a unique island, but not interested in sacrificing comfort or privacy in order to do so? We'd like to introduce you to Slipper Island. Just off the eastern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, this 2.68 km2 slice of land — with its sheltered white sandy beaches, palm trees and dramatic rocky cliffs — is home to Slipper Island Resort, the perfect hideaway. There's a range of self-catered accommodation available, but our pick is the spacious and luxurious two-room glamping tents ($385 per night), set up just steps from the beach. Guests have access to nearly the entire island, and a water taxi service is available from nearby Tairua Marina. slipperislandresort.com
Tiritiri Mātangi, Auckland
Waiheke Island may get all the glory, but Tiritiri Mātangi may just be one of the Hauraki Gulf's most underrated destinations. A 75-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, it's home to one of the country's most successful predator-free wildlife sanctuaries, a 150-year-old lighthouse, a network of trails winding through lush coastal forest, and untouched beaches. About 20,000 people visit the island annually, but only a handful experience the island at night-time, which is when you're most likely to see nocturnal tuatara, ruru and little spotted kiwis. Accommodation is available at the former lighthouse keepers' cottage, which has 15 bunks and is frequently used by visiting researchers and volunteers. As such, bookings with DoC are essential.
Kawau Island, Auckland
If Tiritiri Mātangi is the Hauraki Gulf's most underrated island, Kawau Island might just be its most hyped. Only a 20-minute water taxi from Sandspit (near Warkworth), Kawau Island is becoming a popular island getaway, known for its lack of roads and abundance of hospitality. There are plenty of places to stay — including Parohe Island Wellness Retreat — and a few places to eat, including the restored Mansion House. The stately two-storey building was originally built for governor Sir George Grey between 1845 and 1847, and today its rooms, gardens and restaurant are open to visitors. Also worth visiting are the island's historic copper mine and Māori pā sites. kawauisland.org
Rangitoto ki te Tonga/D'Urville Island, Marlborough
The country's eighth-largest island is also one of its most isolated. Less than a kilometre of water separates d'Urville Island from the outer Pelorus Sound, but its location at the northwest corner of the Marlborough Sounds makes it notoriously difficult to access — and that much more desirable to visit. To get there you'll need to fly to the island's small airstrip, or drive 2.5 hours from Blenheim to French Pass, then board a barge or water taxi. Once you arrive, there's a full range of accommodation, from camping and self-contained baches, to modern motel units like those offered at d'Urville Island Wilderness Resort. durvilleisland.co.nz
Before travelling, ensure you are abiding by the current alert levels as set by the New Zealand Government. To check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel go to covid19.govt.nz