Tiritiri Matangi Island Bird Sanctuary
An open wildlife sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf
Whether you're a birder or just a daytripper, on your own or with family, Tiritiri Matangi Island is a fantastic place to visit in New Zealand. Found in the Hauraki gulf near Auckland, this amazing bird sanctuary can be reached by ferry or private boat.
Tiritiri Matangi has been a nature reserve since the 1890s,and is now one of the best places in the North Island to see native birdlife. There are active recovery projects for kiwi, takahe, kokako, stitchbirds, brown teal and tuatara, and you're likely to see Black Robin, fantail, tui, silvereye, blue penguins and parakeets as well.
It's a small island that can be walked around in about six hours, featuring some splendid views, native bush and a very lovely Kauri grove. A typical day involves arriving on the ferry in the morning, wandering around the island exploring the tracks, then ending up at the lighthouse for complimentary tea and coffee. Basic accommodation is available, although it must be booked ahead as it is often used by researchers and conservation workers.
Once inhabited by Maori tribes, it was later settled by Pakeha (European) immigrants, and ultimately ceded to the government in 1867. It was heavily farmed, and terrifyingly bare, by the time it was designated a sanctuary, in the 1970s. It took a mass volunteer replanting project to bring the forest back to Tiritiri and make it a suitable place to bring birds.
(All photos on this page were taken by me, mostly at Tiritiri Matangi. A few are from Auckland Zoo, in the native Te Wao Nui section, because I didn't have a good photo of two or three species from the island. If you're interested in seeing more bird photography from me, check out my NZ Photography shop.)
Bird Photos from Tiritiri Matangi Island - Native birds seen around the bird sanctuaryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Better yet, have you been there?
Have You Heard of Tiritiri Matangi?
What To Do On the Island
Wander around, take a picnic and watch the birds!
The main activities are bird watching and walking around the island. The paths are well signposted and easy to follow, though there are a few steep sections, so you can wander along them slowly, or hike at high speed. You can go with a guide in a group, or strike out on your own. While the guides will show you things you might miss (such as a local robin that is particularly friendly), you'll see more birds away from a noisy group.
Some of the walks wind through the bush and are very shady, but if trek along the ridge and open grassland you will be out in the sun. The lighthouse is on the highest point of the island, and a good place to end up in the afternoon. If you take it slow enough to look for birds, you can usually cover about three quarters of the island. Maps are sold locally for $1.
If you want to cool off a bit, you can hang out on the beaches and go swimming. I've seen rays from the wharf, and fish, so it should be a great place to snorkel. The best place to go is Hobbs Beach, a couple of minutes northwest from the landing site.
There's a shop and information centre up at the lighthouse, and plenty of seating indoors and out. They provide complimentary tea and coffee, but you'll have to bring your own lunch (or book one with the ferry company - pricy but nice, from what I've seen).Important. Take your rubbish home with you.
Inside the shop, there are the usual range of tourist gifts, although they're generally of better quality and more conservation themed than most souvenir places. You can pick up local crafts and artwork, and a great range of New Zealand wildlife guidebooks. Shopping is best left until near the end, so you don't have to carry anything. You should allow a half hour's leisurely stroll back down to the ferry (or longer, if you want to take the more interesting Wattle track).
All money spent on the island goes back to supporting the sanctuary.
Tiritiri Matangi means "tossed by the wind" in Maori
What Kind of Birds Will You See?
Quick tips for what birds you'll see and where.
Tiritiri is home to about eighty bird species, though you definitely won't see that many of them (this count includes a lot of seabirds as well as shy and rare species). There's a full bird list further down. You'll easily see at least a dozen species, especially if you check out the different habitats, and walk quietly or sit and wait by the bird feeders.
A quick guide to what you are most likely to see in each habitat
- Bird feeder species: Stitchbirds, bellbirds, tui (although the tui can't get into the feeders on the Kawerau track).
- In the bush: Fantails, silvereye, stitchbirds, tui, kereru, saddlebacks, morepork, kaka, kokako
- Edge of the forest and scrub: North Island robin, tui, whiteheads, fantails, silvereye, red-crowned parakeet, kereru, fernbird
- Open grassland, flax scrub and paths: Pukeko, takahe, brown quail, fantails, harrier
- Shoreline: Seagulls, oystercatchers, herons, shags, terns, dotterel
- Wetlands: Brown teal, paradise shelduck, pukeko, fernbird
Check out the full species list or scroll down to see some good guide books.
Photos of Whiteheads, Robins and Other Birds - Some more photos, included some of the more difficult to photograph birds!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Teach the kids to recognise species with this species accurate colouring book!
While most of the birds live in the forested areas, some prefer the edges, or the more open habitat - or are easier to find there. Tiritiri also has a wetlands area right up the top, which most people don't have time to get to, and that area has its own specific birdlife. You can get down to the sea in several places, or follow the East Coast track all along the coastline (if you have time) and look for the many seabird species. Seabirds are unpredictable though, as they tend to be out at sea during the day, and very far away even if you do see them.
The tui are pretty much everywhere and very dominant. They're easiest to spot around the water troughs and on the edge of the bush, sitting in trees, singing loudly. The big, clumsy woodpigeons (kereru) are usually to be spotted sitting high in the canopy, their big white breasts easily visible.
The little insect eating fantails, silvereye and robins tend to be pretty friendly, following you around for the insects you stir up. They're also so twitchy and fast, that they're very difficult to photograph and even harder to catch! And if you walk quietly along the dustier Ridge track, especially up the less travelled northern end, you're almost certain to startle a little quail family.
The takahe wander all over the island, but are usually in a group and usually up in the open grass near the information centre. They're pretty tame.
You probably won't see the rare, nocturnal and shy birds, such as kaka, fernbird, kokako, kiwi, dotterel and morepork, but might get lucky. The morepork, for example, may be spotted having a nap in the trees. You almost certainly won't see a Tuatara (not a bird! learn about this unique reptile here).
I highly recommend taking a bird book with you. There are information signs along some of the tracks (mostly the boardwalk Wattle and Kawerau tracks), but I can pretty much guarantee that you won't be able to find one when you need it. The shop sells very good bird books (including the ones below), but you'll waste a fair chunk of time walking up there to buy one, and the birding around the habitated section isn't nearly as good as the rest of the island.
Getting There & Getting Around
All about getting to Tiritiri Matangi and the main walking tracks.
Getting to Tiritiri Matangi
The easiest option is the ferry
There is a regular ferry trip from Auckland which stops at Whangaparoa. It's pretty expensive, around $60 per adult, but reliable and comfortable. The price includes the return trip and you can arrange to be part of a guided walk if you wish. If you drive up to Gulf Harbour on the Whangaparoa Peninsula, it's significantly cheaper (especially for a group).
It arrives at the island about 10am and leaves at 4pm, Wednesday-Sunday. It does not go if there is bad weather (or the wind is wrong for it to land at Tiritiri Matangi), so it's worth checking in the morning by calling 0800 360 3472 (there's an automated message which is updated about 7am).
The ferry trips are often fully booked. Over 20,000 visitors a year go to the island.
You are allowed to travel there by private boat, if you can find one, although the jetty is very high and designed for the ferry, so you'll need to row ashore.
There is local accommodation, but it is limited. If you don't book accommodation or arrange transport off the island, you will not be allowed to stay - the local staff will call a water taxi from Auckland, which is extremely expensive!
The Bird Feeders
Check out some almost guaranteed tuis!
Tiritiri Matangi supporters have created their own tui feeder, a very practical arrangement of wire and recycled bottles, which they fill with sugar water. These have been vital to the survival and breeding success of the honeyeater species. They're also right next to the paths, so you get a better view of the birds than almost anywhere else in New Zealand.
The feeders around the island are usually enclosed in a larger wooden housing, to stop the larger tuis taking over and driving off the other birds.There is a feeder right next to the information centre, though, which usually has a couple of happy tui drinking from it.
You can buy these feeders in the shop, or online. If you're looking for a tui feeder of your own, check out this guide to making or buying a tui feeder in New Zealand.
- Two on the upper half of the Kawerau track (Stitchbirds and Bellbirds)
- Bird bath/water trough along Wattle track (Tui and Stitchbirds, and others)
- By the Information Centre (Tui)
There's a distinct hierarchy at the feeders. Tuis go first, then male stitchbirds, then females and bellbirds. The stitchbirds are nervous, and flit about very quickly. The tuis are usually quite bold. If you sit quietly and watch for a while, more and more birds will turn up and you'll get to watch them taking turns at the feeder. Overall, though, the birds are pretty used to people.
Photos Around the Feeders & Bird Baths - Stitchbirds, bellbirds and tuis!Click thumbnail to view full-size
There are plenty of directions to take!
The tracks are either straight, gravelled roads cutting fairly directly through the island and up to the lighthouse, or wandering paths through the bush or scrub. Most of the paths are left over from the 1984-90's tree planting project. They all connect back up with each other, often several times, and there are multiple maps and signposts.
You won't get lost, but you might run out of time and miss the ferry. If you want to check out the farthest corners, such as the wetlands, or the East Coast track, I recommend going there first.
If you're trying to get away from the crowd, which I do recommend for at least part of the day, I would either walk as fast as you can ahead of them while they're getting briefed, or wait and see what they do and then head in the other direction. The guided tours generally don't make it to the far corners of the island, so making your way up there and then working your way back will usually keep you out of their way.
My favourite route is to head left along the coast towards Hobbs Beach and see if I can spot any blue penguins, come out on the beach and then head straight up to the Ridge Track, or more slowly up the much nicer Kawerau track (but at the risk of being overtaken by the groups).
Ridge Track - 30 min
The long open road along the ridge of the island, and the fastest way to get from one end of the island to the other. It acts as a 'backbone' for the other tracks, so you can come up to it and go off again. Part of it goes through open grassland, where you will be very exposed to the sun, and see amazing views of the island, the lighthouse and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
While it's quite wide, cutting down on sightings of the shyer species, it passes through multiple different habitats. The birds you may see here include pukeko and takahe in the grass, parakeets and tuis in the trees around the edge of the bush, robins and saddlebacks under the trees and gulls and swallows in the air. It's also a good place to come across brown quail dust bathing.
Kawerau Track - 40 min
One of the most beautiful sections, full of relatively old forest, the lower section is almost cathedral like with its great tall trees. The upper section has at least two feeding stations, and if you spend at least ten minute sitting quietly, a whole flock of stitchbirds is likely to show up. They tend to move to the other one if you're too noisy.
I recommend coming up this track from Hobbs Beach (although nipping up Cable track, and along the Ridge track and then coming down again will get you away from the tour group).
Tui, kereru, fantail are all to be found here, and if you listen for rustling, you may spot saddlebacks throwing leaves around as they ferret about in the undergrowth.
You can either go down to Hobson Beach, up and out to the Ridge track, or take a side path up to Tiritiri Matangi Pa. If you do go this way, and check out the path running back up to the Ridge track, then the scrubby regrowth and grasses in the shade of the trees is a fantastic place to see robins and whiteheads.
The only boardwalk on the island (other than a shorter section on Wattle track), it may be slippery in wet weather, but it has seats and viewing stations all along.
The Wattle Track - 30 min
The Wattle Track is a nice, wandering walk downhill from the lighthouse. It travels through bush and open scrub, where you'll see flowering Manuka.
There are a few highpoints along this track:
- A bird bath (a big wooden trough full of water) with attracts tuis and stitchbirds (hihi)
- A very friendly black robin on the corner where it crosses Wharf Road.
- A favourite hangout of morepork up in the trees (you'll probably need a guide to find it though!)
Wharf Road - 15 min
Wharf Road is just a road straight up to the lighthouse from the landing area. It has four or five smaller tracks coming off it, with the start, end and middle of Wattle track, as well as a couple of others.
Best used to get somewhere quickly, it is very open and gravelly down the bottom, with and quite steep. The best feature is the small pond just up above the landing area, where you can see Brown Teal, an endemic New Zealand duck. Tui are also common in the flax and cabbage trees around the area.
East Coast Track - 1 hour
This long and rambling track runs from one end of the island to the other, taking you mostly along the open coast on the far side of the island. There are some splendid views, but not so much in the way of bush for birding in.
I haven't done the full track yet, because I never have the time (it takes at least half an hour just to reach one end or the other - without stopping to watch birds!), but it meets up with and runs parallel to the Ridge track, so I've done parts of it. It's a lot more rugged than the easy (if occasionally steep) walks around the rest of the island.
It's a good track for people who just want to go walking, or are looking for seabirds (though it's pretty high up for most of the way). You'll also get to look for the open habitat species, in the flax, grasslands and edges of the scrub. Tui especially love the flax flowers. It's the only place I've seen parakeets and pukeko so far, and the takehe often wander down across the open areas.
Ngati Paoa Track - 40 min
Starting at the far end of the Ridge track, the Ngati Paoa track is a big, leisurely loop to the far north end of the island.
It passed through the wetland areas, with plenty of open scrub and flax, and patches of bush. A good place to head to get away from the crowd, as most people never get that far, and to hunt out some of the species that live in those habitats. There are also some fantastic views on clear days.
Another good place to find dustbathing quail!
Tiritiri Matangi Scenery - Views from around the islandClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tiritiri Matangi Bird List
Common, Maori and Scientific names for all species commonly found on Tiritiri.
- Endemics (surviving and translocated)
- Native (including endemic subspecies & self-introduced species)
- Native & Endemic Shore and Sea Birds
- Introduced Species
Endemic Birds Found On Tiritiri
Eighteen endemic bird species live on the island
There are 18 endemic species on the island, 12 of which had to be translocated from elsewhere.
- Bellbird / korimako(Anthornis melanura)
- Grey warbler / riroriro (Gerygone igata)
- New Zealand wood pigeon / kereru (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae )
- Tui / tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae)
- Long-tailed Cuckoo / koekoea (Eudynamys taitensis)
- Paradise Shelduck / putangitangi (Tadorna variegata)
- Little spotted kiwi /kiwi pukupuku (Apteryx owenii)
- Brown teal / pateke (Anas chlorotis)
- Takahe / takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri)
- Red-crowned parakeet / kakariki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae)
- Whitehead / popokatea (Mohoua albicilla)
- North Island robin / toutouwai (Petroica longipes)
- Stitchbird / hihi (Notiomystis cincta)
- North Island kokako / kokako (Callaeas wilsoni)
- North Island saddleback / tieke (Philesturnus rufusater)
- Kaka / kaka (Nestor meridionalis)
- North Island tomtit / miromiro (Petroica macrocephala)
- Rifleman / titipounamu (Acanthisitta chloris)
- Fernbird / matata (Bowdleria punctata vealeae)
Native Birds Found On Tiritiri
Native (non-endemic) species that have found their way to the island
While most of New Zealand's native species are also endemic (found nowhere else), there are several species shared with nearby islands, and Australia. Many of these are migratory birds. The non-migratory birds have mostly evolved into endemic sub-species that may one day be considered full species.
- Australasian harrier / kahu (Circus approximans)
- Shining cuckoo / pipiwharauroa (Chrysococcyx lucidus)^
- North Island Fantail / piwakawaka (Rhipidura fuliginosa)*
- Sacred Kingfisher / kotare (Todiramphus sanctus)*
- Morepork owl (also known as the Tasmanian spotted owl or the Southern Boobook/ ruru (Ninox novaeseelandiae)
- Pipit / Pihoihoi (Anthus novaeseelandiae)*
- Purple Swamp Hen / Pukeko (Porphyrio melanotus)
- Silvereye / tauhou (Zosterops lateralis)^
- Spotless crake / puweto (Porzana tabuensis plumbea)
^ - migratory
* - endemic subspecies/possible species
Seabirds and Shorebirds around Tiritiri
Birds found along the beaches and in the Hauraki Gulf
While the casual visitor is unlikely to see all of these birds from the island, you stand a good chance of seeing shorebirds around Hobbs beach and out on the rocks at low tide. If you're out on deck of the ferry with good binoculars, you may well see any or all of the seabirds.
Seabirds and Shorebirds
- New Zealand Dotterel / tuturiwhatu (Charadrius obscurus)*
- Australian Gannet / takapu (Morus serrator)
- Eastern Bar-Tailed Godwit / kuaka (Limosa lapponica)
- Red Billed Gull / tarapunga (Larus novaehollandiae)
- Southern Black Backed Gull / karoro (Larus dominicanus)
- Reef Heron / matuku-moana (Egretta sacra)
- White Faced Heron / (Ardea novaehollandiae)
- Variable Oystercatcher / (Haematopus unicolor)*
- Little Blue Penguin / korora (Eudyptula minor)
- Black Petrel / (Procellaria parkinsoni)*
- Common Diving Petrel / kuaka (Pelecanoides urinatrix)
- Northern Giant Petrel / (Macronectes hallioi)
- Grey-Faced Petrel / oi (Pterodroma macroptera)*
- White-faced Storm Petrel / takahikare-moana (Pelagodroma marina maoriana)*
- Black Shag / kawau (Phalacrocorax carbo novaehollandiae)
- Little Shag / kawaupuka (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos)
- Pied Shag / karuhiruhi (Phalacrocorax varius)
- Spotted Shag / parekareka (Stictocarbo punctatus)*
- Buller's Shearwater / (Puffinus bulleri)
- Flesh-footed Shearwater / toanui (Puffinus carneipes)
- Fluttering Shearwater / pakaha (Puffinus gavia)
- Shore plover / tuturuatu (Thinornis novaeseelandiae)*
- Arctic Skua / (Stercorarius parasiticus)
- Spur-winged Plover / (Vanellus miles)
- Caspian Tern / taranui (Sterna caspia)
- White Fronted Tern / tara (Sterna striata)
* = endemic species/subspecies
Introduced Land Birds on Tiritiri
Bird species that aren't native to New Zealand
New Zealand has quite a few introduced species (i.e. brought by humans), and you can see quite a few of them on Tiritiri Matangi. Most of these species flourish in urban areas, so native birds are more dominant in the forest, and these species will usually be found in the open or around people.
Because they are recent introductions, they don't have a Maori name, yet.
Introduced Bird Species on Tiritiri Matangi
- Blackbird (Turdus merula)
- Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
- Spotted dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
- Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
- Eastern rosella (Platycercus eximius)
- Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
- Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
- Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen)
- Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
- Brown Quail (Synoicus ypsilophorus)
- Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
- Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)
- House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
- Starling(Sturnus vulgaris)
- Welcome swallow (Hirundo tahitica)
- Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinel)
Learn more about the island, or explore the other birding and New Zealand links and books below!
Books About Tiritiri Matangi - Support the bird sanctuary, and learn more about its history and conservation work!
Related Websites - Click through to the official pages about Tiritiri!
- Home - Tiritiri Matangi Project
The main Tiritiri Matangi website
- Tiritiri Matangi Scientific Reserve (Open Sanctuary): Hauraki Gulf islands, Auckland
The Department of Conservation site. You can be one of the lucky few to visit Tiritiri Matangi each day. This scientific reserve near Auckland is home to many native species due to being predator-free.
- Tiritiri Matangi Island - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tiritiri Matangi Island facts and history.
You May Also Be Interested In... - More birds, photography and articles about New Zealand!
The Terrifying Truth About Birdwatchers
Birding is such an innocent hobby, isn't it? What could be more harmless, charming and innocent than the genteel birdwatcher? Having travelled with a flock ...
Bird Sketches From Melanesia and Norfolk Island
This is a collection of some twenty bird drawings I did while travelling around the western Pacific with Heritage Expeditions. I left from New Zealand and tr...
New Zealand Photography
If you've ever been to New Zealand then you'll know that it is a very scenic country. From endemic species to rolling seascapes, clouds glowing in the sunset...
The New Zealand Kauri Tree
The kauri tree is an enormous and stately tree that is endemic to New Zealand. Agathis australis is part of the pine family that used to cover New Zealand in...
Photos From Auckland Zoo
Auckland Zoo is my local zoo and a very good one. I enjoy visiting it with my camera and decided to finally use all those photos and create a guide to the en...
An Introduction To Marine Biology
Marine Biology is a fun and fascinating area of study - the ocean is an ever-expanding reservoir of knowledge, resources and jobs, in everything from deep se...
New Zealand Marine Reserves
New Zealand marine reserves are areas of ocean that are closed to fishing, and various other activities, in order to preserve fish stocks and ecosystems that...
Bill Ballantine, the Father of Marine Reserves
Bill Ballantine is a world renowned scientist who has been studying and pushing for marine reserves in New Zealand for over forty years. He is based at the A...