Insider’s guide to Tawharanui
The Tawharanui Peninsula is just one hour’s drive from Auckland city, and is undoubtedly one of the most stunning jewels in the region’s bright crown.
With the mainland decorated with coastal forests and white-sand beaches and the marine reserve brimming with incredible sealife, this area is a must-visit for locals and foreigners alike.
The mainland island
On the mainland, Tawharanui is a regional park. However, it’s also a very special place because it’s the first in New Zealand that combines its open sanctuary with conservation, farming and recreation.
In total, Tawharanui is 588 hectares, and it is a place where people can come to enjoy the parkland through camping, hiking, birding, and other outdoor pursuits.
The open sanctuary here was created in 2002, and two years later, a 2.5 kilometre fence was built across the peninsula to cut off the entire area. The sanctuary now operates free from pests, and is a place where species such as kiwi, kaka, takehe, bellbirds and whiteheads can live and breed in peace.
The marine reserve
The Tawharanui marine reserve runs alongside the northern side of the park on the Takatu Peninsula, and is one of many in the Hauraki Gulf. The area has not been open for fishing since 1981, and it has officially been a marine reserve since 2011.
One of the most appealing features of the reserve is that it isn’t shut off to the public, so you can visit and spend time in the reserve. You can launch a boat from the nearest ramp at Omaha and take a slow (five knots max) tour of the shoreline, swim and dive around the beaches such as at Anchor Bay, or explore the rockpools at the reserve’s edge.
Wildlife in Tawharanui
With the help of the marine reserve and the open sanctuary, the wildlife at Tawharanui offers a great variety of incredible land and ocean species.
On land, the wildlife is abundant. Without pests, species such as the bellbird thrive in this area, and others have been re-introduced such as the rare takehe. You might see the morepork (also known as the boobook or the ruru), or even the highly recognisable weta. There are also whiteheads, pateke, and the North Island brown kiwi and robin. The Auckland green gecko and forest gecko have both also been re-introduced to the area since the predator fence was built.
As many as 50 different fish species have been recorded in the Tawharanui marine reserve. Plus, both orcas and bottle-nosed dolphins are known to frequent the area, and there is a large population of lobster living here, too.
Trees in Tawharanui
The plantlife in Tawharanui is full of iconic New Zealand trees. There are beautiful pohutukawa trees dotted around the peninsula, as well as kauri and rimu trees growing on the ridges. You will also find species such as nikau, tawa, rewarewa, puriri and taraire throughout the coastal forestland of Tawharanui.
Farming in Tawharanui
You can also view a real working farm at Tawharanui, with grazing sheep and cattle on site. Walking tracks and areas allow visitors to get up close and personal with the animals, although they are asked to stay out of restricted areas and leave gates as they found them.
Tawharanui is a fantastic attraction and a point of pride not just for Aucklanders, but for New Zealand as a whole.
Insiders’ guide to walks and trekking
Auckland is a walker’s dream. With endless hiking tracks within a few hours of the city in all directions, the hardest part is choosing which one to tackle first.
From volcanic terrain to lush forestland and sandy coastal tracks, walking is one of the best ways to enjoy Auckland sightseeing, and even has plenty to offer for those involved in birding as well.
Here are a handful of unforgettable walking tracks you can enjoy on day tours from Auckland.
The Waitakere Ranges are situated about 40 minutes to the west of Auckland, making for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. As such, this is one of the most visited Auckland tourist attractions.
All together, there are more than 16,000 hectares of wild coastline and native forestland to discover and explore at this regional park. Woven amongst the area is roughly 250 kilometres of hiking trails, all decorated with spectacular waterfalls, cliffs, beaches, and vistas.
There are short one and two hour walks, as well as the famous four-day Hillary Trail for serious trampers, and everything in between. Some of the most popular sites are the waterfalls, such as Fairy Falls, KiteKite Falls and KareKare Falls. Plus, the beaches are famous in their own right, such as Piha Beach, which is especially well-known for its temperamental surf.
Tawharanui Regional Park is known for its wetlands, white beaches, softly undulating hills and native coastal forest – and in and amongst all that, its walking tracks. The park is located about an hour north of Auckland on the east coast by Warkworth on a small peninsula outcropping from the mainland.
The Tawharanui Ecology Trail is a popular spot for eco tours, as this 4 kilometre (return) walk is very quick and easy, taking between one and two hours, and includes some of New Zealand’s most iconic and important scenes. It’s one of the country’s best bird watching tours as it’s rich in birdlife such as the New Zealand Dotterel, the kaka and the rare brown teal.
Another fantastic walk is the Tawharanui Ridge Walk, which is a longer trek at 10 kilometres that offers picturesque views of Whangaparoa Bay. It will take you roughly four hours to complete this round trip as you traverse over high rocky cliffs and gorgeous grassy farm tracks.
Much of Auckland’s landscape is built on dormant volcanoes, which makes for a variety of incredible walking tracks.
Rangitoto is the newest volcano in the area, having erupted just 600 years ago. You can take a quick 25-minute ferry ride to this island volcano from downtown Auckland any day of the week. Once there, you can walk one hour from the ferry wharf to the summit at 259 metres above sea level, or you can visit the Lava Caves Track or the Wilson Park Track for longer routes around the island.
Mt Eden is a centrally located volcano, and the highest in the city, making for a quick and challenging steep hike. There are four walks around its sides and summit, each taking approximately just 40 minutes and offering fantastic views of the city.
Insider’s guide to marine reserves
New Zealand is a place of endless coastlines and indescribably beautiful harbours and inlets. Dotted around the country are a total of 44 marine reserves, set in place to help preserve, protect and rehabilitate the exquisite marine life around our waters.
The Marine Reserves Act was introduced in 1971, and the first area was set up four years later, and today is known as Goat Island. While fishing, marine farming, research, point discharges, anchoring and other extractions are all banned in a marine reserve, you can still kayak, swim, sail, dive, and snorkel, among other activities, in marine reserves.
Such areas are vital in the preservation of our natural marine life. Here are just a few of the many marine reserves in New Zealand, each of which is accessible on eco tours and day tours from Auckland.
Goat Island, also known as Cape Rodney-Okakari Point or Leigh Island, was the very first protected marine area in New Zealand in 1975. It takes a little over an hour to get to the area from Auckland, making for an ideal day tour.
You can snorkel and swim in the crystal blue waters, or take a luxurious quick trip around the island on a glass-bottomed boat so you can watch the sea life dart about underneath you as a knowledgeable guide shares some of the history of the area.
The Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre is also worth a visit here, as it is full of interesting information about the ocean and marine life, and it even has a tide pool for a closer look at the marine creatures.
Just down the coast from Goat Island is the Tawharanui marine reserve. Even though this area has had a fishing ban in place since 1981, it’s only been an official marine reserve since 2011.
One of the many features that make this marine reserve so special is the greywacke rock, which originates from the Jurassic period and holds fascinating marine fossils throughout these green-grey formations. According to the Department of Conservation, researchers have recorded approximately 50 species of fish in the reserve, while lobster, bottle-nosed dolphins and orcas are not uncommon either.
During a Tawharanui tour, we make a stop here to allow visitors to enjoy plenty of time along this beautiful shoreline.
Other Hauraki Gulf reserves
The Hauraki Gulf is a 1.2 million hectare area of ocean and islands to the east of Auckland. There are more than 50 islands in the area, and a total of six marine reserves.
Goat Island and Tawharanui are two of them, and the other four are: Long Bay, which is near Okura to the north of Auckland; Motu Manawa, which is by Pollen Island in the upper Waitemata Harbour; Te Matuku by Waiheke Island; and Te Whanganui-A-Hei, which is known to locals as Cathedral Cove and is near Whitianga.
Many of these marine reserves are complemented by nature reserves on the nearby land such as those on Great Barrier Island and Rangitoto Island, making much of the Auckland area a region focused on conservation of our beautiful flora and fauna both on land and in the sea.
An update on conservation efforts in NZ
As a country that’s known for its incredible sightseeing, birding and forestland, New Zealand is constantly working to improve conservation for the survival of our native plants and animals.
One of the many current projects in motion is the Department of Conservation’s ‘Battle for our Birds’.
The programme sets out to control the numbers of predators such as rodents and stoats, whose numbers have recently been on the incline due to high levels of seed production in New Zealand’s beech forests – an occurrence that happens just once every 15 years.
The problem is that once the predators eat all the seeds, they prey on birds such as kea, whio, kaka, and even the precious kiwi.
In late April, DOC released a statement on the progress of the project from the last eight months, and it seems to be making huge improvements to the predator problem.
Focusing on South Island beech forests, DOC used aerial 1080 to treat more than 600,000 hectares of conservation areas.
As a result, there was a significant increase in nesting success for birds such as the rock wren, mohua, rifleman and robin in these areas compared with untreated areas. The rock wren nesting success rate was 85 per cent, which is a massive improvement against the standard 30 per cent in uncontrolled spots.
The use of 1080 can be a contentious issue in New Zealand, but as DOC Deputy Director-General Conservation Services Mike Slater points out, it’s likely that not using it and allowing predators to roam free would be more damaging than using it and risking a handful of the birds and animals they are working to save.
Operations are set to continue throughout 2015, with plans for coverage of approximately 250,000 hectares in total.
Insiders' guide to rainforests
New Zealand’s rainforests and coastal forests are unlike those found anywhere else in the world. They are a treasure trove of unique flora and fauna, tucked away in all corners of the country just waiting for visitors to explore their waterfalls, hiking tracks, dark canopies and soft undergrowth.
Some of the country’s best are the Waitakere Ranges just half an hour from Auckland city, those on the West Coast of the South Island where the rainfall is heaviest, and coastal forests such as that found at Tawharanui Regional Park.
Here’s a taste of what you can expect when you visit the rainforests and coastal forests of New Zealand during a nature tour.
Approximately 80 per cent of all the trees, flowering plants and ferns in New Zealand are endemic according to the Department of Conservation (DOC), which is largely due to the isolation of the country allowing for the emergence of new species throughout history that have not grown anywhere else.
The geographical location of the North Island is much closer to the equator than the South, giving forests here a sub-tropical classification, whereas those in the South are considered temperate.
Rimu is the most common conifer in New Zealand, growing throughout the country. The precious kauri tree is another New Zealand conifer, and is notable for its massive size both in height and width. The totara tree is another massive forest giant, growing up to 40 metres in height and most commonly found in lowland areas. On top of all that, beech forests are the most widespread in the country.
Below the canopies of such large trees are as many as 200 species of fern, of which approximately 40 per cent are unique to New Zealand. There are also tree ferns, which are known as ‘pungas’, and liverworts and hornworts, which look like mosses and thrive in damp forest areas.
The fauna you will most likely find in any New Zealand rainforest will be birdlife, and you will almost certainly hear them before you see them.
This includes the bellbird, fantail, grey warbler, tui, kokako, tomtit, kaka, wood pigeon, whitehead, and in some forests (such as Tawharanui), the kiwi.
New Zealand’s only native mammals – the long-tailed bat and the lesser short-tailed bat - both live in native forest land where they can roost inside large hollow trees. These species are quite rare and are only found in scattered populations, so you would be extraordinarily lucky to see one.
In many rainforests and coastal forests of New Zealand, you will also find evidence of pests such as stoats, possums and rats. Conservation efforts help keep their numbers under control to ensure the survival of more precious animals.
With so much in the way of flora and fauna to admire, walking tracks in New Zealand rainforests and coastal forests are endless sources of enjoyment.
In the Waitakere Ranges alone, there are more than 250 kilometres of tramping and walking tracks. Tawharanui Regional Park is the ideal location for an eco tour with its lush walking tracks and sounds of birdsong, and the Kahurangi National Park at the top of the South Island offers the 31-kilometre Oparara Track through untouched rainforest.
No matter which forest you intend to visit, it is likely there will be walking tracks and look-out points to truly understand and explore these national treasures.
Insiders' guide to wildlife in New Zealand
New Zealand’s wildlife is more than just the animals that live here. It’s part of our culture, our responsibility, our history, and our future.
In many ways, the kiwis and other New Zealand animals are much like the Kiwis themselves – rare, diverse, enterprising, and all sharing this isolated land we call Aotearoa together.
Here’s a quick overview of the wildlife of New Zealand.
To be endemic for a species means to only exist in one certain place. New Zealand’s endemism is one of the highest in the world.
This includes the whitehead, a pale grey bird about the size of a sparrow that you’ll only find in dense forestland in the North Island. There is also the rifleman, a green bird considered to be New Zealand’s smallest. Plus, New Zealand is the only place you will find the rare stitchbird, a curious and vulnerable little bird only seen around the North Island and some smaller islands such as Great Barrier.
The Kereru – also known as the New Zealand pigeon – is the country’s only seed disperser, which means that to lose this gorgeous green and cream bird would be a great loss for our bushland. The fantail is another endemic bird you might see on our tours, as it’s very popular, very social, and very chatty.
Then of course, there is New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi. We are lucky enough to see kiwis on approximately 70 per cent of our day tours from Auckland, there are five varieties including the North Island brown kiwi, great spotted kiwi, little spotted kiwi, the rowi and the tokoeka.
There are more than 70 species of weta in New Zealand, and all of them are endemic. There are five broad groups, including the cave, tree, ground, giant and tusked weta. While they may look a little scary, many weta species are endangered.
Another of New Zealand’s endemic icons is the tuatara, the last living member of the Sphenodontia family, which was around in the time of the dinosaurs. The tuatara once lived throughout New Zealand but now only inhabits a few dozen offshore islands in the wild.
New Zealand has only two species of endemic mammals, and they are both bats. They are the long-tailed bat and the lesser short-tailed bat, and are both known as pekapeka in Maori. Unfortunately, a third species, the greater short-tailed bat has recently become extinct, as it was last seen in 1967.
Fauna and flora that has naturally arrived in NZ but can also be found elsewhere is known as native.
The pukeko – sometimes unkindly known as the ‘swamp hen’ – is very common throughout the country, and as such, is something of a national icon.
New Zealand’s only surviving native owl is the morepork, one that we regularly enjoy seeing on our night tours to Tawharanui.
Introduced species are those that have been brought to New Zealand, and still live in other parts of the world. They are also known as ‘exotics’.
There have been 144 species of introduced birds to New Zealand since 1840, and just 33 of these species remain today. This list includes the Californian Quail, the starling, goldfinch, crimson rosella, pheasant, chaffinch, and more.
Some introduced mammals include red deer, chamois, tahr, sambar deer and fallow deer.
Many introduced species, such as stoats, hares and possums, have irreversibly damaged the country’s birdlife, and pest control efforts are in place to help ensure they don’t cause a single further extinction.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist