Local Escapes

Rotoroa Island | 12 Magical Things To Do At The Hauraki Gulf’s Newest Wildlife Sanctuary

By Alice Rich
3rd Dec 2021

If you haven’t heard of Rotoroa Island, you better catch up, stat, because you’re definitely missing out. The newest wildlife sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf promises Bay of Island-esque vibes, minus the long roadie and with a whole lot of native wildlife.

The Fullers 360 ferry drops you in the morning and comes to collect you in the early evening so you’ve got a full day to revel in all 82.5 hectares of lush island life. Alternatively, you can hire a place to stay and make a whole weekend of it. Dreamy. 

Here are the best things to do on Rotoroa Island. 

Drink In Harbour Views

So it isn’t technically on Rotoroa Island but the trip is so gorgeous, it deserves a mention. The 75-minute ferry ride will treat you to stunning views of Tāmaki Makaurau’s eastern beaches—like summer fave Mission Bay—as well as Mellon’s Bay, Duder Regional Park, Brown’s Island, Waiheke and the sparkling blue waters of the Hauraki Gulf. 

Hop From Beach To Beach

While it may be small, Rotoroa Island is home to five gorgeous beaches—Ladies’ Bay, Men’s Bay, Home Bay, Mai Mai Bay and Cable Bay—each their own slice of paradise. Roll out your towel, pop your kit on, slap on some sunscreen and enjoy, or take to the water with a snorkel for an undersea experience. 

Brush Up On Your History 

Owned by The Salvation Army, Rotoroa Island was run for 108 years as a rehab centre—New Zealand’s first and longest-running centre of its kind. Intrigued? There are a number of historic buildings on site and the Exhibition Centre houses a small yet award-winning museum that paints a vivid picture of the island’s history. We particularly love the ROOM ROOM photography by Ann Shelton. 

A close up of bright red pohutukawa flowers on a tree on Rotoroa Island. Relax In A Sound Bath

Indulge in nature’s sound bath kicking back under the pohutukawa trees to the hum of bees, or lying on the grass amidst a symphony of bird song. This is self-care at its best.

Stay The Night In Rotoroa Island Accommodation

While there aren’t any campsites on Rotoroa Island, there are four restored buildings you can stay in which sleep from six to eighteen people. Explore the island on your own, once the ferry’s left for the evening, finding the perfect vantage point to watch the sunset and to gaze at Rotoroa’s night sky, views not many get to experience. 

Picnic Like Never Before

Aucklanders are getting particularly good at throwing picnics and Rotoroa Island is the perfect way to take your picnic game to the next level. With an abundance of perfect picnic spots and several free-to-use electric BBQs dotted around the island, you’re set. Just be sure to bring all your food in sealed containers to avoid stowaway skinks, and take all your rubbish home with you. 

Several people rock hop on a rotoroa island at sunset. Go Coastal 

Looking for something a bit out of the ordinary? Circumnavigating the island’s coastline could be just the thing, so long as you’re prepared to scramble, climb and wade. Allow about four and a half hours to complete the loop ideally starting out two hours before low tide. 

Get Your Shinrin-Yoku On

Shinrin-yoku is all about connecting with the atmosphere of a forest which has been proven to lower stress levels. Rotoroa Island has over 350,000 native NZ trees including over 25 different species making it the perfect place to unwind with those forest vibes. Fun fact: this large volume of trees removes twice the carbon emitted on Rotoroa making it a carbon-neutral island.

Trek From Tower to Tower

A great way of seeing the whole island is by trekking from the North Tower to the South Tower. This walk combines two loop tracks and is packed with breathtaking views and chance encounters with native birds and flora. The South Tower loop also features an atmospheric sculpture called ‘Kaitiaki’ or ‘Guardian of the Island’ by sculptor Chris Booth. 

A black bird with an orange, saddle-shaped marking on its back, perched on a branch. Make Some Feathered Friends

On Rotoroa Island you can walk alongside some of Aotearoa’s most endangered species and isn’t that a total honour? The island is a crèche site for the Coromandel Brown Kiwi, the pāteke duck—the rarest waterfowl on the mainland—and the takahē. It’s home to other native birds too, like tīeke saddleback (pictured) and weka. 

Muck In

If you fancy yourself a bit of a green thumb and are inspired by the amazing work that’s being done by the Rotoroa Island Trust, you can give a helping hand. Become a regular volunteer specialising in visitor experience, track maintenance and development or biosecurity or sign up for a one-off volunteer day

Green Up Your ‘Gram

Cut through the sea of selfies on Instagram and cultivate a digital sanctuary instead with photoshoots staged on the island. From wedding photography to website assets with a sustainable feel, the island is an unrivalled setting. 

More in the mood for Waiheke? Here's 15 epic things to do there that aren't drinking wine

Image credit: Rotoroa Island NZ, Alice Rich, Carlo Domingo, Rotoroa Island NZ.

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