Tiritiri Matangi Island is a 220 hectare open wildlife sanctuary situated in the Hauraki Gulf. Tiritiri Matangi means ‘looking into the wind’ or ‘wind tossing about’ in Māori.
The island is managed by the Department of Conservation in partnership with a volunteer community group, Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi. In 1984 a native replanting programme began. Over 280,000 trees were replanted between 1984 and 1994. Many rare birds such as the takahē, North Island saddleback, North Island robin, rifleman, and little spotted kiwi have been re-introduced. Tiritiri Matangi is a bird watcher’s dream.
360 Discovery Cruises operate ferry services to Tiritiri Matangi five days a week, Wednesday to Sunday, all year round. Over the summer holiday period they operate seven days a week.
The ferry departs from Downtown Pier 4 at 9:00am. Tickets are $69 for adults, $61.50 for seniors and $37.00 for children. Family passes are also available.
It is a 75 minute journey from Downtown Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi. The ferry stops at Gulf Harbour Marina around 9:50am to pick up passengers. Majority of the passengers boarded here, as there is free parking at Gulf Harbour. Ticket prices are also cheaper for those boarding from Gulf Harbour – $52 for adults, $47 for senior and $31 for children.
When we arrived at Tiritiri Matangi a Department of Conservation ranger did a briefing on the island, safety and biosecurity.
The Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi offer 1 ½ hour guided walks of the island. It is $5 for an adult and $2.50 for a child. These can be booked through 360 Discovery Cruises. From our ferry group about 90 passengers had booked for a guided walk. Mary-Ann, the guiding manager, quickly allocated guides to larger groups and those with children.
We were given a choice of the Kawerau Track or the Wattle Track. Both guided walks finish at the Visitor’s Centre.
I choose to do the Wattle Track, the shorter of two walks because I was booked for a tour of the Island’s lighthouse at 1:15pm. My small group of six went with volunteer guide Annette. She was very knowledgeable and passionate about the bird life on the island. She also had a small photo album with photos that she and her husband had taken on the Island that she referred to.
Also be sure to purchase a map and brochure of the island for $1. Guides will be selling these on the boat on the way over and they are also available from the Visitor’s Centre.
At the Visitor’s Centre there is gift shop, information displays and complimentary tea and coffee. Profits from the gift shop go to support the island and its conservation work. No food is available for sale on the island so bring a packed lunch or order one through 360 Discovery Cruises.
On the hill behind the Visitor’s Centre are the keeper’s houses, which were built in 1918 to replace the original houses. The first keeper’s house at the top of the hill is now used as the Ranger’s residence. The second keeper’s house, at the bottom of the hill is used as a bunkhouse for overnight accommodation. This can be booked in advance through the Department of Conservation. Although availability is limited.
At the top of the hill is the island’s 20.5 metre tall lighthouse, which was built in 1864. It was the third lighthouse to be constructed in New Zealand and is now our oldest operating lighthouse.
Access to the interior of the lighthouse is normally closed but was open when I visited as part of a 3-in-1 historic day. As well as tours of the lighthouse, visitors could visit the recently restored Watchtower and hear the impressive diaphonic foghorn.
As part of a small group of eight I climbed the steep and narrow stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Ray Walter, the last lighthouse keeper on the island, was at the top to explain the history and the change to the automated solar powered system. The view from the top of the lighthouse was amazing and the visit to the lighthouse was the highlight of the day for me.
The diaphonic foghorn was built in 1932 to replace the previous Gun Cotton Explosive signal. This diaphonic foghorn is only one of two in New Zealand. I went inside the room and when the volunteer sounded the horn I could feel the vibrations in my chest. It is definitely loud.
The original Watchtower was built in 1912 and has been rebuilt to its original condition using Ministry of Transport plans.
After visiting the lighthouse area I went along the East Coast track to Emergency Landing, and then returned back to the Wharf via Hobbs Beach track.
Hobbs Beach is a 10 minute walk from the wharf. This sandy beach is popular with visitors who wish to swim. Many people anchor there boats offshore and come in by dingy to spend a day on the beach, picnicking and swimming.
The ferry departs Tiritiri Matangi at 3:30pm. Although you need to be at the wharf 15 minutes before for boarding. The ferry arrives back at Gulf Harbour at 3:50pm and Downtown Auckland at 4:50pm.
It’s not possible to explore the entire island in the five and bit hours, which is great because like many natural treasures they are there to be revisited.