New Zealand, a land of breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders, is not just limited to its North and South Islands. Beyond these well-known treasures lie a hidden paradise of islands waiting to be explored.

In this article, we’ll take you on a journey to discover the top 12 awesome islands in New Zealand that offer a perfect blend of natural beauty, adventure, and unique experiences.

From the vibrant Waiheke Island to the remote Chatham Islands, each island has its own charm, making them must-visit destinations for any traveler seeking the extraordinary.

12 Awesome Islands in New Zealand

1. Waiheke Island: A Mediterranean Oasis

Our journey begins with Waiheke Island, a Mediterranean-inspired gem in the Hauraki Gulf. Known for its stunning beaches, world-class vineyards, and a vibrant arts scene, Waiheke offers a perfect blend of relaxation and cultural exploration. Whether you’re sipping New Zealand wine or strolling along pristine beaches, Waiheke Island is a paradise waiting to be discovered.

Waiheke Island, often referred to as the “Mediterranean of New Zealand,” is a captivating destination that beckons travelers with its unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness. Just a short ferry ride from Auckland, this island boasts a laid-back atmosphere that instantly puts visitors in vacation mode.

As you step onto the shores of Waiheke, you’ll be greeted by sun-kissed beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. The turquoise waters of the Hauraki Gulf are perfect for swimming and water sports, while the soft sands invite you to relax and soak up the sun.

Waiheke Island - 12 Awesome Islands in New Zealand
Waiheke Island | @c.k.travels

One of the island’s standout features is its world-class vineyards. Waiheke is renowned for producing exceptional New Zealand wine, particularly its exquisite varieties of reds and whites. Wine enthusiasts can embark on wine-tasting tours, exploring the picturesque vineyards and savoring the flavors of this Mediterranean-inspired paradise.

But Waiheke Island isn’t just about beaches and wine; it’s also a hub of artistic creativity. The island’s vibrant arts scene is evident in its numerous galleries and studios, where you can immerse yourself in the works of local artists. The blend of art and nature creates a unique atmosphere that’s both inspiring and calming.

2. Stewart Island/Rakiura: Nature’s Untouched Haven

Heading south, we arrive at Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura. This island offers untouched wilderness, making it a haven for nature lovers. With hiking trails, hot springs, and the southernmost national park, Stewart Island is an adventurer’s dream. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the abundant wildlife, including the iconic kiwi.

Stewart Island, or Rakiura in Maori, is a pristine wilderness where nature reigns supreme. This remote island is a sanctuary for those seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life. It’s a place where the untouched beauty of New Zealand’s natural landscapes takes center stage.

One of the highlights of Stewart Island is its extensive network of hiking trails. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk, you’ll find trails that cater to all levels of expertise. As you traverse these paths, you’ll be surrounded by lush forests, pristine lakes, and the soothing sounds of native birds.

Stewart Island - 12 Awesome Islands in New Zealand
Stewart Island | @bruceypix

For those in search of relaxation, Stewart Island offers a unique opportunity to unwind in natural hot springs. Imagine soaking in warm, rejuvenating waters surrounded by the serenity of the island’s wilderness. It’s a therapeutic experience that rejuvenates both body and soul.

But what truly sets Stewart Island apart is its commitment to conservation. Rakiura National Park, the southernmost national park in New Zealand, is a testament to the island’s dedication to preserving its natural heritage. Here, you can encounter native wildlife in their natural habitat, including the iconic kiwi bird. Stewart Island is a birdwatcher’s paradise, and the opportunity to spot kiwis in the wild is an unforgettable experience.

3. Great Barrier Island: Eco-Tourism Paradise

Great Barrier Island beckons eco-tourists with its rugged beauty. Hike through lush forests, soak in natural hot springs, and explore marine reserves teeming with life. This island is a haven for those seeking a deeper connection with nature and a sustainable travel experience.

Great Barrier Island, or Aotea as it’s known in Maori, is a rugged and untamed paradise that offers a unique eco-tourism experience. Located in the Hauraki Gulf, this island is a world away from the bustling city life, making it the ideal destination for travelers seeking a deeper connection with nature.

The island’s pristine landscapes are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking is a popular activity here, with a network of trails that take you through lush forests and offer breathtaking views of the surrounding ocean. One of the must-do hikes is the Aotea Track, which provides an immersive journey into the heart of the island’s wilderness.

Great Barrier Island - 12 Awesome Islands in New Zealand
Great Barrier Island | @parker

Great Barrier Island is also known for its natural hot springs, which are a soothing reward after a day of exploration. Imagine relaxing in warm waters surrounded by native bush and the gentle sounds of nature. It’s a tranquil experience that’s perfect for unwinding and rejuvenating.

But perhaps the island’s most significant draw for eco-conscious travelers is its commitment to sustainability. Great Barrier Island is a designated Dark Sky Sanctuary, offering some of the clearest and darkest skies for stargazing. This designation reflects the island’s dedication to preserving its natural environment and minimizing light pollution.

Moreover, the island boasts marine reserves teeming with life. Snorkeling and diving enthusiasts can explore underwater worlds filled with colorful marine creatures and vibrant coral reefs. The opportunity to witness the thriving marine ecosystem is a reminder of the importance of preserving such pristine environments.

4. Kapiti Island: Sanctuary for Rare Birds

Kapiti Island is a predator-free sanctuary that’s home to rare bird species, including the iconic kiwi. Birdwatching enthusiasts will find their paradise here, and the island’s rich Maori history adds depth to the experience. Get ready to be amazed by the diverse wildlife on this island.

Kapiti Island, a small but mighty sanctuary located off the Kapiti Coast, is a testament to New Zealand’s commitment to conservation. This predator-free island is a safe haven for some of the country’s most endangered bird species, making it a must-visit for birdwatching enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Kapiti Island - 12 Awesome Islands in New Zealand
Kapiti Island | @johnny_hendrikus

One of the main highlights of Kapiti Island is the opportunity to see the iconic kiwi bird in its natural habitat. With no predators threatening their existence, kiwis thrive on the island, and spotting these flightless birds is a surreal experience. Kapiti Island offers night tours where you can hear the haunting calls of kiwis echoing through the forest.

But the island isn’t just about kiwis; it’s also home to a wide variety of bird species, many of which are rare and endemic to New Zealand. As you explore the island’s walking tracks, you’ll encounter tui, kereru, and more. Birdwatching on Kapiti Island is like stepping into a living encyclopedia of New Zealand’s avian biodiversity.

Beyond its natural wonders, Kapiti Island has a rich Maori history and cultural significance. The island is known as “Te Waewae-Kapiti-o-Tara-Rua,” signifying its historical importance to the Maori people. Visitors can gain insight into the island’s Maori heritage through guided tours and storytelling.

5. Chatham Islands: A Unique Cultural and Wildlife Experience

Venturing further off the beaten path, we arrive at the Chatham Islands, where Maori culture meets unique wildlife. Explore this remote paradise and discover its hidden treasures, including ancient Maori sites, vibrant traditions, and stunning landscapes that few have had the privilege to witness.

The Chatham Islands, a remote archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, offer a truly unique and immersive travel experience. This isolated paradise is a world of its own, where Maori culture, history, and stunning natural beauty come together in a captivating blend.

One of the first things you’ll notice on the Chatham Islands is the warm and welcoming hospitality of the local Moriori and Maori communities. The islanders are proud of their heritage and are eager to share their culture with visitors. Immerse yourself in their traditions, try local dishes, and learn about the history that shaped this remarkable place.

Chatham Islands
Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands are not just a cultural gem; they’re also a sanctuary for unique wildlife. The islands are home to several endemic bird species, including the Chatham Island taiko and the Chatham Island oystercatcher. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the chance to observe these rare birds in their natural habitat.

Exploring the Chatham Islands feels like stepping back in time. The landscape is rugged and wild, with dramatic cliffs, sweeping beaches, and rolling hills. The pace of life here is relaxed, and you’ll have ample opportunities for outdoor adventures like hiking, fishing, and wildlife encounters.

To delve deeper into the islands’ history, visit the Moriori Heritage Center, where you can learn about the Moriori people and their unique culture. You can also explore ancient Maori sites that hold stories of generations past, adding a layer of historical significance to your journey.

The Chatham Islands are a hidden treasure waiting to be uncovered by intrepid travelers seeking a blend of culture, wildlife, and natural beauty that exists nowhere else on Earth.

6. D’Urville Island: Secluded Beauty Beckons

D’Urville Island, a hidden gem in the Marlborough Sounds, offers secluded coves, hiking trails, and tranquility in abundance. It’s the perfect escape for those looking to unwind in a serene natural setting. The island’s untouched beauty will leave you spellbound.

Tucked away in the tranquil waters of the Marlborough Sounds, D’Urville Island is a haven of seclusion and natural beauty. Accessible by a short ferry ride, this hidden gem beckons travelers seeking a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The island’s coastline is adorned with secluded coves and pristine beaches, perfect for a peaceful day of sunbathing or beachcombing. As you explore the shoreline, you’ll be mesmerized by the crystal-clear waters and the sense of solitude that surrounds you.

D'Urville Island - 12 Awesome Islands in New Zealand
D’Urville Island | @josephine.wrt

For those with a sense of adventure, D’Urville Island offers hiking trails that lead you through lush forests and to scenic viewpoints. The Rangitoto ki te Tonga/D’Urville Island Track is a popular choice, offering stunning vistas of the surrounding sounds and islands. Birdwatchers will also appreciate the opportunity to spot native species in their natural habitat.

Accommodation options on D’Urville Island range from cozy cottages to campgrounds, ensuring that you can immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty without sacrificing comfort. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway or a family-friendly retreat, D’Urville Island has something for everyone.

7. Ulva Island: A Birdwatcher’s Paradise

Ulva Island, located in the pristine waters of Stewart Island, is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Explore lush forests teeming with native bird species, many of which are rare and endangered. This island provides a unique opportunity to connect with New Zealand’s native wildlife.

For avid birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, Ulva Island is a hidden gem that promises a unique and unforgettable experience. Located in the waters of Stewart Island, Ulva Island is a predator-free sanctuary that provides a safe haven for some of New Zealand’s rarest and most endangered bird species.

Ulva Island
Ulva Island | @shakedon

As you step onto Ulva Island, you’ll be greeted by a chorus of birdsong that fills the air. The island’s lush forests are teeming with native birdlife, including the South Island kaka, saddleback, and the elusive Stewart Island kiwi. Birdwatchers will find themselves in a state of wonder as they observe these rare and often elusive species in their natural habitat.

One of the island’s popular tracks is the Ulva Island Track, a well-maintained trail that winds its way through the forest, offering opportunities for birdwatching and photography. As you walk beneath the towering native trees, keep your eyes peeled for the vibrant plumage of the native birds that call Ulva Island home.

Ulva Island’s significance in conservation efforts cannot be overstated. It serves as a testament to New Zealand’s commitment to protecting its unique biodiversity. Visiting Ulva Island is not only a chance to witness rare birds up close but also a way to support ongoing conservation initiatives.

8. Chetwode Island: A Romantic Getaway

Chetwode Island, with its pristine beaches and secluded charm, offers the ideal setting for a romantic getaway. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply escaping the hustle and bustle of daily life, Chetwode Island promises romance and tranquility.

Nestled in the Hauraki Gulf, Chetwode Island is a secluded paradise that caters to those seeking a romantic retreat. This private island offers an intimate setting with pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a sense of seclusion that’s perfect for couples looking to rekindle their romance.

Imagine stepping off a boat onto a secluded beach, where the only footprints in the sand are your own. Chetwode Island’s beaches are a haven of tranquility, providing the ideal backdrop for romantic strolls, picnics, and sunset gazing.

For couples looking to add a touch of adventure to their romantic getaway, the island offers water sports such as kayaking and snorkeling. Explore the underwater world hand in hand, discovering vibrant marine life beneath the surface.

Accommodation on Chetwode Island ranges from charming cottages to luxury villas, ensuring that you can tailor your stay to your preferences. Whether you choose to unwind in a private hot tub or dine under the stars, Chetwode Island sets the stage for unforgettable romantic moments.

9. Kawau Island: History and Snorkeling Adventures Kawau Island, located in the Hauraki Gulf, is known for its historic mansion, native wildlife, and clear waters perfect for snorkeling. Explore the historic mansion and its gardens, then dive into the crystal-clear waters to discover vibrant marine life beneath the surface.

Kawau Island, situated in the Hauraki Gulf, is a destination that seamlessly blends history, nature, and aquatic adventures. Its historical significance is evident in the presence of the Mansion House, a grand Victorian-era mansion that once belonged to Sir George Grey, a former Governor of New Zealand.

The Mansion House is a captivating attraction that offers insight into the island’s history. Explore the mansion’s interiors, adorned with period furnishings and artifacts that transport you back in time. The surrounding gardens, complete with peacocks, provide a picturesque setting for a leisurely stroll.

Kawau Island
Kawau Island | @sophiemhenderson

But Kawau Island isn’t just about history; it’s also a paradise for snorkeling enthusiasts. The island’s clear waters are teeming with marine life, making it an excellent spot for underwater exploration. Dive beneath the surface, and you’ll encounter colorful fish, rays, and even friendly snapper fish that are known to interact with snorkelers.

For those who prefer to stay on land, Kawau Island offers walking tracks that provide stunning views of the Hauraki Gulf. The Coppermine Walk is a popular choice, leading you through native forests and to scenic lookouts. Birdwatchers will appreciate the opportunity to spot native bird species in their natural habitat.

Kawau Island is a destination where history meets adventure, and whether you’re exploring historic mansions, snorkeling in crystal-clear waters, or hiking through lush forests, this island has something for every traveler.

10. Matiu/Somes Island: Wellington’s Hidden Gem

Our journey concludes at Matiu/Somes Island, a short ferry ride from Wellington. Immerse yourself in history and wildlife as you explore this island. Discover its significance in New Zealand’s history and enjoy encounters with the island’s unique wildlife.

Matiu/Somes Island, a short ferry ride from Wellington, is a hidden gem that offers a blend of history, wildlife, and natural beauty. As you approach the island, you’ll be struck by its lush greenery and the sense of tranquility that surrounds it.

One of the island’s main attractions is its historical significance. Matiu/Somes Island has served various roles throughout New Zealand’s history, including as a quarantine station and a military base during World War II. Today, you can explore remnants of these historical periods, including old buildings and fortifications.

Somes Island
Somes Island | @wellingtonnz

The island’s rich Maori history is also evident, and guided tours provide insights into the cultural significance of the island to local Maori communities. Learn about the traditional stories and legends that are woven into the fabric of Matiu/Somes Island.

Beyond its historical aspects, the island is a sanctuary for native wildlife. As you explore the walking tracks, you’ll have the chance to encounter unique bird species, including the little blue penguin and the tuatara, a prehistoric reptile found only in New Zealand. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts will find plenty to admire.

Matiu/Somes Island’s location in Wellington Harbor provides stunning views of the city and the surrounding landscape. Whether you’re seeking a day of historical exploration or a peaceful retreat in nature, this hidden gem offers a unique experience just a stone’s throw from New Zealand’s capital city.

11. Rangitoto Island: Volcanic Wonder

Rangitoto Island, a volcanic marvel in the Hauraki Gulf, is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Explore the rugged terrain, discover unique flora and fauna, and learn about the island’s volcanic history. Rangitoto’s iconic summit hike offers panoramic views that are worth every step of the journey.

Rangitoto Island, with its distinctive volcanic cone, is a testament to New Zealand’s geological wonders. Located in the Hauraki Gulf, this island is a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The journey to Rangitoto begins with a short ferry ride from Auckland, setting the stage for a day of exploration.

One of the island’s most striking features is its volcanic terrain. Rangitoto is one of the youngest and largest volcanoes in the Auckland Volcanic Field, and its rugged landscape showcases the raw beauty of volcanic activity. Hiking enthusiasts can embark on the iconic Rangitoto Summit Track, which leads to the island’s summit and offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf and Auckland skyline.

Rangioto Island
Rangioto Island | @lousimrodgers

As you ascend the summit, you’ll pass through lush native forests, where unique flora and fauna thrive. Keep an eye out for the vibrant pohutukawa trees, often referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree due to their crimson blossoms during the summer season.

Rangitoto Island also has a rich history, with remnants of World War II observation posts and historic bachs (holiday homes) that provide glimpses into the past. The island’s cultural and geological significance is recognized by its status as a protected reserve.

Whether you’re hiking to the summit, exploring lava caves, or simply enjoying a picnic on the island, Rangitoto offers a unique blend of natural beauty and history that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.

12. Motutapu Island: Conservation and Adventure

Motutapu Island, adjacent to Rangitoto, is a conservation success story and an outdoor playground. Explore native forests, uncover Maori history, and embark on adventurous activities such as mountain biking and kayaking. This island offers a perfect blend of nature, culture, and adventure.

Motutapu Island, neighboring Rangitoto, is a testament to the power of conservation and restoration efforts. This island, once extensively farmed, has been transformed into a thriving natural sanctuary where native flora and fauna flourish. It’s a destination that combines outdoor adventure with cultural exploration.

The island’s native forests are a paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts. Explore walking tracks that lead you through lush forests, where you can encounter native bird species and enjoy the tranquility of the natural surroundings. The island’s pristine beaches also provide opportunities for swimming and relaxation.

Motutapu Island
Motutapu Island | @herlifeofadventure

Motutapu Island holds cultural significance for Maori, with historical sites and pa (fortified village) remains that offer insight into its rich history. Guided tours are available for those interested in learning about the island’s Maori heritage and the stories of its past inhabitants.

For adventure seekers, Motutapu offers a range of outdoor activities. Mountain biking is a popular choice, with scenic trails that take you through diverse landscapes. Kayaking is another excellent way to explore the island’s coastline and discover hidden coves and bays.

One of the island’s unique attractions is the Motutapu Outdoor Education Camp, where visitors can stay and immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty while participating in outdoor education programs.

Motutapu Island is a shining example of conservation efforts that have rejuvenated a once-degraded environment. It invites travelers to connect with nature, delve into history, and embark on exciting adventures in a pristine and protected landscape.

Conclusion New Zealand’s islands are a testament to the country’s natural beauty, cultural richness, and commitment to conservation. From the Mediterranean-inspired charm of Waiheke Island to the remote and pristine wilderness of Stewart Island, each island offers a unique adventure waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re a nature lover, history enthusiast, or simply seeking a romantic escape, New Zealand’s islands have something to offer. These 12 awesome islands invite you to explore their wonders and create memories that will last a lifetime. So pack your bags, embark on a ferry ride, and let the adventure begin as you explore the paradise down under.