There’s more to New Zealand than North and South islands. Here’s a guide to the country’s lesser-known isles with cerulean waters, isolated beaches and enchanting wildlife.

Everyone knows New Zealand’s two main islands, prosaically named “North” and “South”, but did you know there are hundreds of smaller islands that surround our trans-Tasman neighbour?

While none are your traditional tropical idyll, these islands offer untouched beaches, thriving wildlife and deep history. Best of all, these are places where it is possible to escape the world almost entirely. From the top of the north to the very bottom of the south, these are the best of New Zealand’s other islands.

Urupukapuka, Bay of Islands

They don’t call it the Bay of Islands for nothing. With 144 islands in a sub-tropical region three hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is favoured by boaties keen to cruise its turquoise waters. At 208 hectares, Urupukapuka is the largest of the group but it’s still largely undeveloped except for a few basic campsites, walking tracks and a single café (open in summer only). Take a ferry from the mainland and spend the day spotting native birds such as dotterel and kiwi or hire a kayak and explore the island’s pristine beaches. 

The Secret Islands of New Zealand

Kawau Island, near Auckland

Reached by (newly refurbished) ferry from Sandspit, one hour north of Auckland, Kawau Island offers a glimpse into New Zealand’s colonial past. Visit a 19th-century mansion renovated by one of the country’s early statesmen Sir George Grey and its park-like gardens, including a collection of “exotic” plants. Grey also introduced wallabies to the island, which are now a pest. With no roads, many kilometres of bush-walking trails and an impressive range of native birds, as well as some premium accommodation, Kawau offers an easy escape from Auckland.

Great Barrier Island, near Auckland

The Great Barrier Island is 88 kilometres from Auckland, but feels like a world away. With no electricity except for generator and solar power – and no ATM machines – New Zealand’s fourth-largest island rewards travellers keen on a quintessentially kiwi adventure. Take a 4.5-hour ferry (or a 30-minute flight) from Auckland, book one of the high-end beach houses or “baches” and spend a week hitting rugged surf beaches and tranquil hot springs for a total escape.

The Secret Islands of New Zealand

Kapiti Island, near Wellington

New Zealand’s elusive national bird, the kiwi, is nocturnal so your best chance of seeing one is a visit to a nature reserve. Kapiti Island, off Paraparaumu an hour north of Wellington, is one of the few such reserves open to the public including for overnight stays. As well as the kiwi, the lush island is home to some of the country’s most endangered birds including some that are extinct on the mainland. Best of all, these birds have been raised in a predator-free environment so they are not afraid of humans. You’ll need a permit to visit Kapiti and overnight stays must be booked through a licensed operator.

D'Urville Island, South Island

The Marlborough Sounds at the north-eastern tip of the South Island are a remarkable maze of cerulean blue waterways formed after the last ice age. At the outer edge of “the Sounds”, as locals call them, you’ll find New Zealand’s eighth-largest island named after dashing French explorer Jules Dumont D’Urville. With astonishing views across the Marlborough Sounds from its peaks, D’Urville is a perfect place to go hiking. Alternatively you could paddle a kayak around the circumference keeping an eye out for dolphins and seals.

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