Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Offshore Odyssey: Islands of New Zealand

We all know of islands that were forced from the ocean floor by volcanic eruptions, or slowly pushed up over millennia by shifting tectonic plates. But what about the island that was fished from the sea?

According to Māori legend, New Zealand’s North Island was a huge fish, hooked by the demigod Maui while he stood in his canoe (the South Island). Today, the North and South Islands are the largest and most highly populated islands in New Zealand, but if you want to get off the ‘mainland’ and make your visit truly unforgettable, try these smaller islands on for size:

    Stewart Island
You might feel like you're edging off the world when you reach Bluff, at the bottom of the South Island, but an hour by ferry or flight will take you even further. It's this isolation that makes Stewart Island a tranquil paradise. 85% of the island forms Rakiura National Park, protecting its unique ecosystem and providing a haven for native flora and fauna. The park is perfect for hiking, offering one of New Zealand’s Great Walks (the Rakiura Track) as well as a range of others, from short half hour walks to the 10-12 day North West Circuit. For those who love fishing and diving, the waters around Stewart Island are teeming with marine life.

    Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is easily accessible, (only a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland) and internationally renowned as a destination for culture and fine cuisine. Art admirers shouldn’t miss Connells Bay Sculpture Park, which has a collection of over 28 sculptures, or the annual headland Sculptures on the Gulf, a contemporary outdoor exhibition set along a spectacular coastal walkway. From shore you'll spot paddle-boarders, kayakers and sailors dotted across the Hauraki Gulf, but if you don’t feel like getting your feet wet perhaps opt to watch, from one of the boutique wineries of course! Keep it local by ordering a plate of olives, they'll be sourced from one of the olive groves on the island.

    Kapiti Island
When explorer Captain Cook arrived off New Zealand shores in 1769, the dawn chorus was "deafening". Thousands of years of isolation meant there were no land-based predators, allowing birdlife to flourish. The number of species has since declined due to hunting and introduced predators, but a visit to Kapiti Island; a large bird sanctuary off the west of the lower North Island, will let you observe birds that are rare or absent from the mainland and get a feel for how the dawn chorus must have sounded to Cook and his men. You'll need a permit to visit - see here for information.

    White Island
Here’s one for the brave: New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. Sure, you can see the steam rising off White Island from the safety of the mainland, but why stop there? Don a hard hat and explore the inner crater with an authorised tour operator. Note, the island’s volcanic activity is always fluctuating, so check its status before you add it to your itinerary!

    Great Barrier Island
Yes, New Zealand has many places to escape, relax, unwind…and Great Barrier Island is no exception. You’ll find everything you need to get back to nature; swim in turquoise waters or natural hot springs, walk along golden sand beaches or in the vast native forests, fish, dive…or just put your feet up and listen to the birdsong.

    Bay of Islands
Haven’t had enough islands yet? Don’t worry, you’ll get your fix in the far north Bay of Islands, a sub-tropical region encompassing 144 of the things. Take a tour on a sail boat, charter a boat, or jump in your own kayak and head out into the bay. It's a marine playground where you’ll find dolphins, whales, penguins and seabirds. Wander around the historic town of Russell which was once New Zealand’s capital, or visit the beautiful Waitangi Treaty grounds, where European settlers and Māori signed the founding document for New Zealand in 1840.

Article Contributor:
Susy Peddie hails from New Zealand, but is now based in Berlin, working with GoEuro and dreaming of an island adventure.

Photo Credits:
[Stewart Island] Image taken by Flickr User: ed37
[Waiheke Island] Image taken by Flickr User: Andym5855
[Kapiti Island] Image taken by Flickr User: angrysunbird
[White Island] Image taken by Flickr User: x-oph
[Great Barrier Island] Image taken by Flickr User: AlexSchwab
[Bay of Islands] Image taken by Flickr User: DanielPietzsch

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