Matakana Island in the western Bay of Plenty is a secret spot that’s hard to miss.
Matakana Island in is a 24-kilometre long flat stretch of land that forms a protective barrier between Tauranga Harbour in the Bay of Plenty and the Pacific Ocean. Hugging the coastline just north of Mount Maunganui, it’s Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest barrier island, but getting there isn’t straightforward. You have to want to visit.
The biggest coastal island in the Bay of Plenty, Matakana Island is a slice paradise. There are bone-white beaches, cool forests, orchards, and a laid back lifestyle dedicated to enjoying all of the above.
The wildlife enjoys is too. Thanks too low visitor numbers and pest eradication work, Matakana Island is also known for its biodiversity, with more than 100 species of indigenous plants and a large number of native New Zealand creatures and birds.
The surf side of the island is a nesting site for large populations of sea birds, including the endangered New Zealand dotterel / tūturiwhatu. A successful dotterel breeding programme was set up in 1992, and since then more than 300 chicks have successfully fledged.
What is there to do on Matakana Island?
The first trick is getting there. Matakana Island is only accessible by private boat or jetski.
Take your own vessel, or hop aboard the cool-as Kewpie boat. They’ll take you for a scenic cruise on Tauranga Harbour, with the option to stop off at Matakana Island and get picked up later in the day.
Pack a picnic, and your togs, and enjoy the views of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui from a completely different offshore angle.
Can you surf at Matakana Island?
Matakana Island has one of the top beach breaks in New Zealand, replete with sand barrels. But it’s an exposed, rip prone break best left to experienced surfers.
Safety note: Do not try to swim across the channel from Mount Maunganui at the end of Tauranga Harbour. It’s unsafe, and illegal.
Does anyone live on Matakana Island?
There are permanent residents on Matakana Island, but not very many! It’s populated with far more birds than people.
According to the 2018 New Zealand census, the island has a 183 locals, most of whom live on the inner harbour side.
Despite the small population, there is a primary school, Te Kura o Te Moutere o Matakana, which Māori immersion education for uri from Years 0 to 8.
The community is actively involved in conservation projects like the dotterel breeding programme.
Can I camp on Matakana Island?
There are no campground and no freedom camping on Matakana Island, but there are two marae that the public can stay on, if they are not too busy hosting happy schoolkids.