FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Bird paradise at Tiritiri Matangi

Posted in Auckland, New Zealand by folkestonejack on April 13, 2019

The predator-free wildlife sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi island in the Hauraki Gulf is one of the conservation success stories in New Zealand, as well as a really rewarding day trip from Auckland by ferry. The promise of some beautiful autumnal weather persuaded us that it was time to find out what the fuss was about.

Trinity Wharf on Tiritiri Matangi

Tiritiri Matangi was originally a forested island but a couple of centuries of farming resulted in the loss of 94% of the native bush and with it much of the original wildlife. In the late 1960s Tiritiri Matangi Island was designated as a reserve but it was the bold plan of a couple of young academics that really put this place on the map. Their plan, to recreate a forest, saw thousands of volunteers plant 280,000 trees over a ten year period from 1984.

The successful establishment of a replacement ecosystem has been followed by the re-introduction of some of New Zealand’s rarer native birds, such as the takahē. Today, the island is a much loved open wildlife sanctuary with a dedicated volunteer base.

On boarding the ferry it was pretty clear that we were in the company of some pretty dedicated bird spotters, whereas I would struggle to name more than a handful of bird species. I can tell the difference between a parrot and a pigeon, but don’t ask me to tell you what a swallow or a finch looks like. Luckily, you can book a guided tour with one of the volunteers when you buy your ferry ticket.

Once we arrived on the island it turned out that almost everyone was going on a guided walk. Two options were offered, one through the oldest bush on the Kawerau Track and the other through the re-planted and much younger bush of the Wattle Track. We were among a relatively small number choosing the latter, a shorter walk, which we thought would make a good introduction to the island.

In our small group of around eight, we set off at a deliberately slow pace. It was a delight to see birds flying all around us as soon as we left the main road, onto the Wattle Track. Frequent pauses on our walk allowed us to take in the sight of Tiritiri’s native birds, especially around the feeders. Our guide helped us to identify the birds that we could see and hear around us, while explaining the current state of growth of the bush and the stage ahead.


It was all surprisingly addictive, as well as wonderfully calming. We had many moments on our own in the afternoon, standing still and absolutely silent on the Kawerau Track as the birds ignored us and flew around our heads. Over the course of the day we managed to see saddlebacks, bellbirds, stichbirds, takahē, pūkeko, whiteheads, north island robins, kererū, tūī and fantails. There was also a kōkako flapping its wings high in the canopy above us, though I didn’t manage to catch sight of the bird itself.

As if the birdlife wasn’t enough, Tiritiri Matangi is also home to New Zealand’s oldest operating lighthouse, first illuminated on 1st January 1865. The lighthouse was the first to be built by the New Zealand Government and only the third constructed in the entire country. The prefabricated cast iron tower was manufactured by Simpson & Co in England, whose name can still be seen on either side of the doorway, and hauled up to the construction site by twelve bullocks.

The lighthouse at Tiritiri Matangi

Although you can’t go inside the lighthouse you can wander around the outside. The lighthouse, neighbouring signal station and the surrounding homestead are very photogenic. Hopefully, plans to open a Lighthouse Museum in the old workshop will come to fruition. In the meantime, a wonderful booklet to celebrate the 150th anniversary shares a little of its history and the life of the lighthouse families.

Our visit came to an end all too soon, finishing with a lovely walk along the Hobbs Beach Track to Trinity Wharf in perfect time to make the only ferry back to Auckland. The ferry schedule gives you just over five hours on the island which seems like alot until you start wandering!


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