Before the arrival of humans, Tiritiri Matangi supported a vibrant ecosystem dominated by avian residents. Plentiful supplies of berries and insects fed the melodic community in the absence of predators. Introduction by Maori of the kiore (rat) and dog had a devastating effect on the defenceless species, many such as kiwi being flightless. Land clearance for cultivation and hunting of birds for food further decimated the populations. The advent of Europeans settlers further compounded the annihilation of bird and insect with the remaining forest being burned for farming purposes. A pitiful and unviable remnant of forest to survive was the sorry legacy for the birds.
Since the late 1970s community initiatives and Government protection have replanted Tiritiri Matangi with nearly 300,000 native seedlings. Rare and endangered bird species have been reintroduced to the predator free island. Tiritiri Matangi now represents an accessible and enlightening glimpse of what Hauraki Gulf Islands once were.
Auckland Information Centres can advise on times of ferry departures from the Auckland Ferry Terminal and Gulf Harbour. All ferries arrive at the wharf on Tiritiri Matangi Island.
Or visit https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/auckland/hauraki-gulf-marine-park/know-before-you-go/treasure-islands/pest-free-warrant-holders/ for a list of authorised operators and their contact details.
Although tracks on Tiritiri Matangi are well signposted, the network of tracks is extensive. It is a good idea to pick up a map from the ferry ticket office. There are toilets at the lighthouse area , the wharf and Hobbs Beach.
This route describes a clockwise loop of the island from the wharf. It follows the Hobbs Track, Kawerau Track, Ngati Paoa, North East Bay and Eastern Track to the lighthouse, then finishes with the Wattle Track returning to the wharf. The loop takes approximately 3 hours to walk, but will undoubtedly take longer with all the distractions.
The Hobbs Track takes 15 minutes one-way and departs from the wharf. Head left (signposted Kawerau Track) along the narrow track as it skirts the coastline, passing nesting boxes of Blue penguins and crossing pebble beaches on a few occasions. The Blue penguin is the smallest penguin species in the world and alights on the shore around Hobbs Beach to roost in rock crevices, under tree roots or in artificial rock burrows constructed by volunteers. These have shuttered viewing windows allowing a glimpse of the nest activity while walking past. It takes 10 minutes to Hobbs Beach and the junction with Hobbs Track on the right, but head left along the beach towards the Kawerau Track.
This takes 30 minutes one-way on a mostly metalled track. It traverses a boardwalk through shaded coastal forest, climbing gently. Veer left at the junction although right will eventually meet up with the Kawerau Track again.
The forest now thriving thanks to the many natives planted by volunteers is best exhibited on the boardwalked section of the Kawerau Track, constructed to help protect the fragile root systems of the shallow rooting trees and provide an easier walking surface.
At the exit to the forest, head left to the junction with the Tiritiri Matangi Pa Track. This 5-minute-return detour discovers the old pa site. Back at the junction bear left over the grassy vehicle track, passing the junction with another branch of the Kawerau Track to the Ngatipaoa Track.
The mostly grassed vehicle track takes 40 minutes one-way. Head left, passing the junction on the right, which is the completion of the loop of the Ngatipaoa Track. It’s 15 minutes to a 5-minute-return detour to North East Point, then 15 minutes and a descent through a gully to the start of the Eastern track. The views along this section are more expansive with the low vegetation cover. A more rugged and isolated feel begins to envelop.
The Eastern track is a mixture of grass, metal and exposed earth and takes 1 hour one-way. It weaves along the north east coast, passing various junction with tracks heading inland. Pohutukawa Cove is the natural stopping off point for a break. While many visitors to Tiri will concentrate their attention on the wharf and lighthouse area, this northern coast is less frequented and a peaceful place for lunch. The rocky coastline has been scalloped by the ferocious action of waves into a convoluted form, with numerous offshore islets, reefs and collapsed rock stacks. Keep bearing left and follow the coastline until the track climbs towards the lighthouse.
From the lighthouse head down the metalled wharf road and veer left at the signposted junction with the Wattle Track. This metalled track with boardwalks has frequent benches to observe the endemic birdlife amid the low canopy. This is the best place for spotting the prolific and tuneful avian residents of Tiri.
With pest eradication programs and the reintroduction of endangered species form other offshore island sanctuaries, the bird population is now thriving. Interaction is possible with ground dwelling birds such as the inquisitive and tame Takahe, who roam free especially around the lighthouse area. Kiwi forage through the forest floor litter at night and the semi-flightless kokako scurries through the understorey, disseminating its hauntingly melodic song.
Watch for the ubiquitous honeyeaters such as the tui and bellbirds, who were joined by the endangered stitchbird, helping to repollinate the nectar producing shrubs and trees. Saddlebacks, robins and white heads dart around at eye level providing constant interest in the forest interior.
Higher in the sky above the forest kaka screech and display their characteristic scarlet underwing markings. Harrier hawks glide on the updraughts and black backed and red billed gulls hover on the coastal margins. There are over 75 species recorded on or close to Tiri to watch for, of which 7 are endangered species, unlikely to be encountered on the mainland. Tiritiri Matangi is a glimpse of the past, a throwback to how the ecosystems of New Zealand may have interacted. Although not fully replicating New Zealand’s former natural glory, Tiri is as close as we get today. It is an open sanctuary ripe for enjoyment, discovery and inspiration, a living lesson on how community action and planned scientific intervention can recreate a paradise once lost.
The first Maori settlers were from the Kawerau tribe, who remain the tangata whenua. They named Tiritiri Matangi, which translated means ‘a place tossed or moved by the wind’. Europeans now shorten the name from Tiritiri Matangi to simply Tiri.
Ngati Paoa started incursions but were defeated by Kawerau tribes, who remained on Tiri until 1821 when Hongi Hika attacked from the north in a series of devastating raids. When the Kawerau people trickled back in 1837, Europeans had already taken over the island.
Settlement of disputes in the Maori Land Court in 1867 gave title to the government. In 1894 Joseph Schollum obtained the lease and the right to farm the island, which was transferred to Francis Dennis in 1896. In 1901 Edward John Hobbs took on the lease and this family connection lasted until 1971 when title was granted to the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board. The legacy of the Hobbs family is remembered in the naming of Hobbs Track.
Around the lighthouse area is a gift shop and information office. Tiritiri Matangi’s lighthouse stands at 36 degrees 36 minutes south and 174 degrees 54 minutes east. The sections were built in England and bolted together on site. It is 20-metres-high and the light is 91 metres above sea level. Built in 1864 at a cost of £5288, the fixed light was changed to a rotating one in 1929 to distinguish it from mainland lights. It first started shining on the 1st January 1865 and was originally fuelled by a wick and whale oil. This was converted to acetylene gas in 1925 and then diesel generated electricity in 1955. An 11-million candle power xenon lamp installed in 1956 made it one of the most powerful lights in the world at that time and was powered by a 5-km-long undersea mains cable from the mainland. Now solar panels and a battery bank power the light, which flashes once every 15 seconds and can be seen for 18 nautical miles (33 km). Its original red colour was repainted in 1947.
When the Government’s 100 year lease of Tiri expired in 1971, it was decided the island should be made into a sanctuary for endangered birds, involving the restoration of the forest and associated ecosystems. Ray and Barbara Walter, the former lighthouse keepers were entrusted with the job of island keepers, a task they still carry out with passion, care and vitality today.
It was strikingly evident Tiri needed a helping hand to speed up its recovery. An in situ nursery was set up in 1983 to propagate once common native plants such as pohutukawa, coprosma, kohekohe, puriri, karaka, and cabbage tree seedlings. A few years later taraire, five finger and pigeonwood seedlings were also planted. Since the nursery was initiated, over 250,000 seedlings of 38 species have been planted, mainly through the help of volunteers and school groups.
North Island ▷ Auckland Region ▷ Auckland
It was a great experience, the guided tour was very informative about the plants and birds of new zealand. The guide Roy was nice and entertaining.
Well worth the ferry tickets of 78$pp. Buy them before hand online!
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We were lucky with good weather and to get Barry our guide, he was very good.
Access savings worth hundreds of $$ on Top Ranked NZ Accommodation and Activities for just $1 per day.
Wonderful island. A very knowledgeable guide. Not so many birds as expected because of the wind (nature!).
Beautiful wildlife reserve, some stunning coastline and forest walks.
Stayed at the doc hut and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Lots of different birds in a fantastic scenery. Good walking tracks and beautiful views on the surrounding hauraki gulf.
We have seen all the birds except Kokake. The weather was nice. The hiking route was good also for less experienced persons. Nice people, good charity, for nature lovers.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍