New Zealand's 10 best small islands you've never heard of

With New Zealand, it's not just north vs south. Around the country, scattered offshore, are dozens of little islands with their own story to tell. Some are wildlife sanctuaries, some offer amazing diving, some are paradise for walkers and some are covered in stark lava fields. But hop on a boat, and you'll probably find a New Zealand island that suits your tastes.

WAIHEKE ISLAND

Waiheke Island.

Photo: Alamy

New Zealand's good time island is a short ferry ride away from downtown Auckland, and how you use it is up to you. You can focus on the beaches and coastal walks if you like, but it's altogether more enjoyable if you hop between the plentiful wineries. Waiheke Island Wine Tours will nobly assist your tasting mission. See waihekeislandwinetours.co.nz

RANGITOTO ISLAND

Rangitoto Island near Auckland.

Rangitoto Island near Auckland. Photo: Getty

The newest of Auckland's islands formed in a volcanic eruption around 600 years ago. And it looks exactly how you might imagine the aftermath of a volcanic eruption to look. What's remarkable, however, are the little speckles of greenery and wildlife amid the rough lava fields. On the eastern side of the island you can investigate lava tubes, too. Fullers runs ferries and island tours from downtown Auckland. See fullers.co.nz

GREAT BARRIER ISLAND

GBI

Photo: Alamy

Right on the edge of the Hauraki Gulf, and surrounded by a National Marine Park, Great Barrier Island is off the grid and supermarket-free. New Zealand's fourth largest island is left as wild as possible, with walking tracks lacing through the hilly, forested interior. The beaches are pretty special, too. Medlands Beach is one of several white sand marvels on the west coast, while the east coast is pounded by furious surf. See greatbarrierislandtourism.co.nz

URUPUKAPUKA ISLAND

Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands.

Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands. Photo: Alamy

There are around 150 little islands to choose from in Northland's Bay of Islands, which is why people with their own boats love jaunting around there so much. Urupukapuka Island is the biggest of the archipelago, and most boat tours in the region stop by for walking and swimming time. Should you want to stay longer, camp out overnight and rent a kayak to explore at your own pace. See bayofislandskayaking.co.nz

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THE POOR KNIGHTS ISLANDS

Archway Island, Poor Knights Islands.

Archway Island, Poor Knights Islands. Photo: Alamy

No-one's allowed to land on the Poor Knights Islands off the Northland coast. But you'll probably not care, as the main attractions are in the surrounding waters. The Poor Knights are consistently regarded as one of the world's top diving destinations. Currents from the coral sea bring in tropical fish not seen elsewhere in New Zealand, and they happily mix with the subtropical fish normally here. Clear water, caves and steep underwater cliffs add to the drama. Yukon Dive runs specialised Poor Knights diving trips. See yukon.co.nz

KAPITI ISLAND

Kapiti Island, near Wellington.

Kapiti Island, near Wellington. Photo: Getty

Kapiti Island near Wellington is one of several offshore islands that have been set aside as sanctuaries for native wildlife. An extensive predator eradication program has meant Kapiti Island is safe for rare native birds such as the little spotted kiwi. Kapiti Island Nature Tours runs trips focusing on the wildlife, but you can go unguided to see what you can find along the walking trails. See kapitiisland.com

SECRETARY ISLAND

one time use for Traveller only
credit: Getty Images

Photo: Getty

Secretary Island in the Fiordland region is another island that has been earmarked as a sanctuary, and predator eradication programs are under way. Most visitors won't set foot on the island, but they'll probably be awed by it on an overnight cruise. The triangle-shaped island lies at the entrance to Doubtful Sound, and it rises dramatically out of the water. It soars to 1196 metres at what seems a near-vertical gradient. Real Journeys operates the Doubtful Sound cruises that will allow you to stare slack-jawed what's effectively a mountain with a moat around it. See realjourneys.co.nz

RANGITOTO KI TE TONGA

Also known as D'Urville Island, Rangitoto Ki Te Tonga lies amid the drowned valleys of the Marlborough Sounds. Around 50 people live there permanently, but visitors can come by water taxi and stay at the D'Urville Island Wilderness Resort. It's all about the activities here – options include kayaking the Sounds, fishing charters, mountain biking and visits to a glow worm grotto. See durvilleisland.co.nz

STEWART ISLAND

Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island.

Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island. Photo: Alamy

New Zealand's third largest island dangles off the bottom of the country, and is a spectacularly rough ferry ride away. It's worth taking the sea-sickness pills, though, as most of Stewart Island is national park, covered in lush forest. The 32 kilometre Rakiura Track is the shortest of New Zealand's Great Walks, but you've got an amazing chance of seeing kiwis along the way. They hang out amongst the ferns, and this is one of the few places where they feel comfortable enough to come out during the day. See stewartisland.co.nz

ULVA ISLAND

Like a condensed version of its bigger neighbour, Stewart Island, Ulva Island offers an insight into how New Zealand used to be. Staggering numbers of native birds have survived and thrived, free from invasive predators. Saddlebacks, riflemen, Stewart Island robins and mohua are amongst the ultra-rare species that are ten a penny on Ulva Island. It's all wonderfully noisy, too, as the rainforest fills with birdsong. Ulva's Guided Walks runs fabulously informative tours. See ulva.co.nz

David Whitley was a guest of Tourism New Zealand (newzealand.com)

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